Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Physics & Astronomy

First Advisor

Vijay Balasubramanian

Second Advisor

Maria N. Geffen


Learning how neural activity in the brain leads to the behavior we exhibit is one of the fundamental questions in Neuroscience. In this dissertation, several lines of work are presented to that use principles of neural coding to understand behavior. In one line of work, we formulate the efficient coding hypothesis in a non-traditional manner in order to test human perceptual sensitivity to complex visual textures. We find a striking agreement between how variable a particular texture signal is and how sensitive humans are to its presence. This reveals that the efficient coding hypothesis is still a guiding principle for neural organization beyond the sensory periphery, and that the nature of cortical constraints differs from the peripheral counterpart. In another line of work, we relate frequency discrimination acuity to neural responses from auditory cortex in mice. It has been previously observed that optogenetic manipulation of auditory cortex, in addition to changing neural responses, evokes changes in behavioral frequency discrimination. We are able to account for changes in frequency discrimination acuity on an individual basis by examining the Fisher information from the neural population with and without optogenetic manipulation. In the third line of work, we address the question of what a neural population should encode given that its inputs are responses from another group of neurons. Drawing inspiration from techniques in machine learning, we train Deep Belief Networks on fake retinal data and show the emergence of Garbor-like filters, reminiscent of responses in primary visual cortex. In the last line of work, we model the state of a cortical excitatory-inhibitory network during complex adaptive stimuli. Using a rate model with Wilson-Cowan dynamics, we demonstrate that simple non-linearities in the signal transferred from inhibitory to excitatory neurons can account for real neural recordings taken from auditory cortex. This work establishes and tests a variety of hypotheses that will be useful in helping to understand the relationship between neural activity and behavior as recorded neural populations continue to grow.

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