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Visual Decision Making Section

About our work

The Visual Decision Making Section seeks to help uncover the mechanisms and circuitry of visually driven decision-making. Our work is guided by three broad questions:

  • How are such decisions influenced by internal state and behavioral context?
  • How do internal states and neuromodulatory circuits influence the encoding of the incoming visual signals in the visual cortex?
  • How are these combined signals used to guide behavior in healthy mammalian brains?

Answering these questions is aimed at improving our understanding of how these mechanisms fail in psychiatric and neurological diseases. To address these questions we combine computational, behavioral, pharmacological, functional imaging, videography and large-scale electrophysiological approaches in mammals, and, through collaboration, machine-learning techniques.

Join our lab

We are currently looking for talented and motivated people, regardless of your background, to join us:

For prospective post-doctoral fellows, please email Hendrikje ( and include a CV, a brief description of your research accomplishments and interests, why you would want to work with us, and the names and contact information for two references.

For prospective graduate students, there are several programs through which graduate students can join our lab, including the Brown, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, Karolinska and Oxford/Cambridge partnerships with the NIH (see links below). If you are interested in rotating or joining the lab, please email Hendrikje (

For prospective post-baccalaureate students, please apply at the post-bac/IRTA website (see below) and email Hendrikje ( with a brief description of your research interests and why you want to join our group.

Selected publications

Quinn, Seillier, Butts, Nienborg, Decision-related feedback in visual cortex lacks spatial selectivity Nat Commun (2021) 12: 4473

Nienborg, Meyer Neuroscience needs behavior: inferring psychophysical strategy trial by-trial. Neuron (2021) 109:561-563

Macke, Nienborg Choice (-history) correlations in sensory cortex: cause or consequence? Current Opin Neurobiol (2019) 58:148-154.

Kawaguchi, Clery, Seillier, Pourriahi, Haefner, Nienborg: Differentiating between Models of Perceptual Decision Making Using Pupil Size Inferred Confidence J Neurosci (2018) 38:8874-8888.

Jacob, Nienborg: Monoaminergic neuromodulation of sensory processing Front Neural Circuits (2018)

Lueckmann, Macke*, Nienborg*: Can serial dependencies in choices and neural activity explain choice probability? J Neurosci , (2018) 38:3495-3506.

Seillier*, Lorenz*, Kawaguchi, Ott, Nieder, Pourriahi, Nienborg: Serotonin decreases the gain of visual responses in awake macaque V1 J Neurosci , (2017): 37:11390-11405 (* equal contribution)

Clery, Cumming, Nienborg: Decision-Related Activity in Macaque V2 for Fine Disparity Discrimination Is Not Compatible with Optimal Linear Readout. J Neurosci , (2017) : 37:715-725

Nienborg, Roelfsema: Belief states as a framework to explain extra-retinal influences in visual cortex. Current Opin Neurobiol, (2015) : 32: 45-52.

Nienborg, Cumming: Decision-related activity in sensory neurons reflects more than a neuron’s causal effect. Nature, (2009) : 459:89-92.

Visual Decision Making Section key staff

Key staff table
Name Title Email Phone
Christina Jacob, B.S. Postbaccalaureate IRTA 301-496-9375
Incheol Kang, Ph.D. Research Fellow 301-594-4564
Leya Luo, B.S. Postbaccalaureate IRTA 301-496-9375
Colin Mason, B.S. Postbaccalaureate IRTA 301-496-9375
Hendrikje Nienborg, M.D., Ph.D. Investigator 301-496-3549
Bharath Chandra Talluri, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow 301-496-9376

News from this lab

Two hat-shaped objects, one pointing towards the viewer (concave) and one away from the viewer (convex)

Scientists uncover how decisions about what we see are relayed back through the brain

July 27, 2021

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have discovered that decisions based on visual information is broadcast widely to neurons in the visual system, including to those that are not being used to make the decision.
A scale with left superior colliculus neurons more activated on left and right superior colliculus neurons less activated on the right, and scale weighed down to the left. Needle on scale points to “yes”, meaning detection of relevant event.

NIH researchers discover neural code that predicts behavior

November 26, 2018

Scientists at the National Eye Institute (NEI) have found that neurons in the superior colliculus, an ancient midbrain structure found in all vertebrates, are key players in allowing us to detect visual objects and events.

NEI Investigator Hikosaka Awarded Gruber Prize in Neuroscience

November 1, 2018

Dr. Okihide Hikosaka, senior investigator at the National Eye Institute (NEI) Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research, is a recipient of the 2018 Gruber Prize in Neuroscience.

Last updated: October 31, 2022