Learning and attention reveal a general relationship between population activity and behavior

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Abstract

Prior studies have demonstrated that correlated variability changes with cognitive processes that improve perceptual performance. We tested whether correlated variability covaries with subjects’ performance—whether performance improves quickly with attention or slowly with perceptual learning. We found a single, consistent relationship between correlated variability and behavioral performance, regardless of the time frame of correlated variability change. This correlated variability was oriented along the dimensions in population space used by the animal on a trial-by-trial basis to make decisions. That subjects’ choices were predicted by specific dimensions that were aligned with the correlated variability axis clarifies long-standing paradoxes about the relationship between shared variability and behavior.

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