Variability in cortical neural activity potentially limits sensory discriminations. Theoretical work shows that information required to discriminate two similar stimuli is limited by the correlation structure of cortical variability. We investigated these information-limiting correlations by recording simultaneously from visual cortical areas primary visual cortex (V1) and extrastriate area V4 in macaque monkeys performing a binocular, stereo depth discrimination task. Within both areas, noise correlations on a rapid temporal scale (20-30 ms) were stronger for neuron pairs with similar selectivity for binocular depth, meaning that these correlations potentially limit information for making the discrimination. Between-area correlations (V1 to V4) were different, being weaker for neuron pairs with similar tuning and having a slower temporal scale (100+ ms). Fluctuations in these information-limiting correlations just prior to the detection event were associated with changes in behavioral accuracy. Although these correlations limit the recovery of information about sensory targets, their impact may be curtailed by integrative processing of signals across multiple brain areas.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Correlated noise reduces the stimulus information in visual cortical neurons during experimental performance of binocular depth discriminations. The temporal scale of these correlations is important. Rapid (20-30 ms) correlations reduce information within and between areas V1 and V4, whereas slow (>100 ms) correlations between areas do not. Separate cortical areas appear to act together to maintain signal fidelity. Rapid correlations reduce the neuronal signal difference between stimuli and adversely affect perceptual discrimination.
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behavior, cortex, noise correlation, rhesus, stereo depth