Neural Mechanisms for Interacting with a World Full of Action Choices

Annual Review of Neuroscience

Vol. 33:269-298 (Volume publication date 21 July 2010)
First published online as a Review in Advance on March 26, 2010


The neural bases of behavior are often discussed in terms of perceptual, cognitive, and motor stages, defined within an information processing framework that was originally inspired by models of human abstract problem solving. Here, we review a growing body of neurophysiological data that is difficult to reconcile with this influential theoretical perspective. As an alternative foundation for interpreting neural data, we consider frameworks borrowed from ethology, which emphasize the kinds of real-time interactive behaviors that animals have engaged in for millions of years. In particular, we discuss an ethologically-inspired view of interactive behavior as simultaneous processes that specify potential motor actions and select between them. We review how recent neurophysiological data from diverse cortical and subcortical regions appear more compatible with this parallel view than with the classical view of serial information processing stages.