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Journal Article

Predict or classify : the deceptive role of time-locking in brain signal classification


Valleriani,  Angelo
Angelo Valleriani, Theorie & Bio-Systeme, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Max Planck Society;

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Rusconi, M., & Valleriani, A. (2016). Predict or classify: the deceptive role of time-locking in brain signal classification. Scientific Reports, 6: 28236. doi:10.1038/srep28236.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002A-C336-3
Several experimental studies claim to be able to predict the outcome of simple decisions from brain signals measured before subjects are aware of their decision. Often, these studies use multivariate pattern recognition methods with the underlying assumption that the ability to classify the brain signal is equivalent to predict the decision itself. Here we show instead that it is possible to correctly classify a signal even if it does not contain any predictive information about the decision. We first define a simple stochastic model that mimics the random decision process between two equivalent alternatives, and generate a large number of independent trials that contain no choice-predictive information. The trials are first time-locked to the time point of the final event and then classified using standard machine-learning techniques. The resulting classification accuracy is above chance level long before the time point of time-locking. We then analyze the same trials using information theory. We demonstrate that the high classification accuracy is a consequence of time-locking and that its time behavior is simply related to the large relaxation time of the process. We conclude that when time-locking is a crucial step in the analysis of neural activity patterns, both the emergence and the timing of the classification accuracy are affected by structural properties of the network that generates the signal.