Stochastic resonance enhances the rate of evidence accumulation during combined brain stimulation and perceptual decision-making

Onno van der Groen*, Matthew F. Tang, Nicole Wenderoth, Jason B. Mattingley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


Perceptual decision-making relies on the gradual accumulation of noisy sensory evidence. It is often assumed that such decisions are degraded by adding noise to a stimulus, or to the neural systems involved in the decision making process itself. But it has been suggested that adding an optimal amount of noise can, under appropriate conditions, enhance the quality of subthreshold signals in nonlinear systems, a phenomenon known as stochastic resonance. Here we asked whether perceptual decisions made by human observers obey these stochastic resonance principles, by adding noise directly to the visual cortex using transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) while participants judged the direction of coherent motion in random-dot kinematograms presented at the fovea. We found that adding tRNS bilaterally to visual cortex enhanced decision-making when stimuli were just below perceptual threshold, but not when they were well below or above threshold. We modelled the data under a drift diffusion framework, and showed that bilateral tRNS selectively increased the drift rate parameter, which indexes the rate of evidence accumulation. Our study is the first to provide causal evidence that perceptual decision-making is susceptible to a stochastic resonance effect induced by tRNS, and to show that this effect arises from selective enhancement of the rate of evidence accumulation for sub-threshold sensory events.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1006301
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


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