Neural decoding and "inner" psychophysics: a distance-to-bound approach for linking mind, brain, and behavior

J. Brendan Ritchie*, Thomas A. Carlson

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    34 Citations (Scopus)
    37 Downloads (Pure)


    A fundamental challenge for cognitive neuroscience is characterizing how the primitives of psychological theory are neurally implemented. Attempts to meet this challenge are a manifestation of what Fechner called "inner" psychophysics: The theory of the precise mapping between mental quantities and the brain. In his own time, inner psychophysics remained an unrealized ambition for Fechner. We suggest that, today, multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA), or neural "decoding," methods provide a promising starting point for developing an inner psychophysics. A cornerstone of these methods are simple linear classifiers applied to neural activity in high-dimensional activation spaces. We describe an approach to inner psychophysics based on the shared architecture of linear classifiers and observers under decision boundary models such as signal detection theory. Under this approach, distance from a decision boundary through activation space, as estimated by linear classifiers, can be used to predict reaction time in accordance with signal detection theory, and distance-to-bound models of reaction time. Our "neural distance-to-bound" approach is potentially quite general, and simple to implement. Furthermore, our recent work on visual object recognition suggests it is empirically viable. We believe the approach constitutes an important step along the path to an inner psychophysics that links mind, brain, and behavior.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number190
    Pages (from-to)1-8
    Number of pages8
    JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2016

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2016. 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.


    • Inner psychophysics
    • MVPA
    • Reaction times
    • Signal detection theory
    • Visual object categorization


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