In perceptual systems, a stimulus parameter can be extracted by determining the center-of-gravity of the response profile of a population of neural sensors. Likewise at the motor end of a neural system, center-of-gravity decoding, also known as vector decoding, generates a movement direction from the neural activation profile. We evaluate these schemes from a statistical perspective, by comparing their statistical variance with the minimum variance possible for an unbiased parameter extraction from the noisy neuronal ensemble activation profile. Center-of-gravity decoding can be statistically optimal. This is the case for regular arrays of sensors with gaussian tuning profiles that have an output described by Poisson statistics, and for arrays of sensors with a sinusoidal tuning profile for the (angular) parameter estimated. However, there are also many cases in which center-of-gravity decoding is highly inefficient. This includes the important case where sensor positions are very irregular. Finally, we study the robustness of center-of-gravity decoding against response nonlinearities at different stages of an information processing hierarchy. We conclude that, in neural systems, instead of representing a parameter explicitly, it is safer to leave the parameter coded implicitly in a neuronal ensemble activation profile.

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