Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

    At every moment, the natural world presents animals with two fundamental pragmatic problems: selection between actions that are currently possible and specification of the parameters or metrics of those actions. It is commonly suggested that the brain addresses these by first constructing representations of the world on which to build knowledge and make a decision, and then by computing and executing an action plan. However, neurophysiological data argue against this serial viewpoint. In contrast, it is proposed here that the brain processes sensory information to specify, in parallel, several potential actions that are currently available. These potential actions compete against each other for further processing, while information is collected to bias this competition until a single response is selected. The hypothesis suggests that the dorsal visual system specifies actions which compete against each other within the fronto-parietal cortex, while a variety of biasing influences are provided by prefrontal regions and the basal ganglia. A computational model is described, which illustrates how this competition may take place in the cerebral cortex. Simulations of the model capture qualitative features of neurophysiological data and reproduce various behavioural phenomena.