Decision-making and action selection in insects: inspiration from vertebrate-based theories

Andrew B. Barron*, Kevin N. Gurney, Lianne F S Meah, Eleni Vasilaki, James A R Marshall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
51 Downloads (Pure)


Effective decision-making, one of the most crucial functions of the brain, entails the analysis of sensory information and the selection of appropriate behavior in response to stimuli. Here, we consider the current state of knowledge on the mechanisms of decision-making and action selection in the insect brain, with emphasis on the olfactory processing system. Theoretical and computational models of decision-making emphasize the importance of using inhibitory connections to couple evidence-accumulating pathways; this coupling allows for effective discrimination between competing alternatives and thus enables a decision maker to reach a stable unitary decision. Theory also shows that the coupling of pathways can be implemented using a variety of different mechanisms and vastly improves the performance of decision-making systems. The vertebrate basal ganglia appear to resolve stable action selection by being a point of convergence for multiple excitatory and inhibitory inputs such that only one possible response is selected and all other alternatives are suppressed. Similar principles appear to operate within the insect brain. The insect lateral protocerebrum (LP) serves as a point of convergence for multiple excitatory and inhibitory channels of olfactory information to effect stable decision and action selection, at least for olfactory information. The LP is a rather understudied region of the insect brain, yet this premotor region may be key to effective resolution of action section. We argue that it may be beneficial to use models developed to explore the operation of the vertebrate brain as inspiration when considering action selection in the invertebrate domain. Such an approach may facilitate the proposal of new hypotheses and furthermore frame experimental studies for how decision-making and action selection might be achieved in insects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number216
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2015

Bibliographical note

Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Basal ganglia
  • Cross inhibition
  • Lateral protocerebrum
  • Leaky competing accumulator model
  • Mushroom body
  • Mutual inhibition
  • Parallel inhibition
  • Protocerebral calycal tract


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