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Decoding and predicting intentions


Address for correspondence: John-Dylan Haynes, Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, Charité–Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Haus 6, Philippstrasse 13, 10115 Berlin, Germany.


There has been a long debate on the existence of brain signals that precede the outcome of decisions, even before subjects believe they are consciously making up their mind. The framework of multivariate decoding provides a novel tool for investigating such choice-predictive information contained in neural signals leading up to a decision. New results show that the specific outcome of free choices between different plans can be interpreted from brain activity, not only after a decision has been made, but even several seconds before it is made. This suggests that a causal chain of events can occur outside subjective awareness even before a subject makes up his/her mind. An important future line of research would be to develop paradigms that allow feedback of real-time predictions of future decisions to reveal whether such decisions can still be reverted. This would shed light on how tight the causal link is between early predictive brain signals and subsequent decisions.