Dissociable neural mechanisms track evidence accumulation for selection of attention versus action
Decision-making is typically studied as a sequential process from the selection of what to attend (e.g., between possible tasks, stimuli, or stimulus attributes) to the selection of which actions to take based on the attended information. However, people often gather information across these levels in parallel. For instance, even as they choose their actions, they may continue to evaluate how much to attend other tasks or dimensions of information within a task. We scanned participants while they made such parallel evaluations, simultaneously weighing how much to attend two dynamic stimulus attributes and which response to give based on the attended information. Regions of prefrontal cortex tracked information about the stimulus attributes in dissociable ways, related to either the predicted reward (ventromedial prefrontal cortex) or the degree to which that attribute was being attended (dorsal anterior cingulate, dACC). Within dACC, adjacent regions tracked uncertainty at different levels of the decision, regarding what to attend versus how to respond. These findings bridge research on perceptual and value-based decision-making, demonstrating that people dynamically integrate information in parallel across different levels of decision making.
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