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Publication Summary and Abstract

Ashvin Shah and Kevin N. Gurney (2014), Emergent Structured Transition from Variation to Repetition in a Biologically-Plausible Model of Learning in Basal Ganglia, Frontiers in Psychology (Cognitive Science), 5:91.

Often, when animals encounter an unexpected sensory event, they transition from executing a variety of movements to repeating the movement(s) that may have caused the event. According to a recent theory of action discovery (Redgrave and Gurney, 2006), repetition allows the animal to represent those movements, and the outcome, as an action for later recruitment. The transition from variation to repetition often follows a non-random, structured, pattern. While the structure of the pattern can be explained by sophisticated cognitive mechanisms, simpler mechanisms based on dopaminergic modulation of basal ganglia (BG) activity are thought to underlie action discovery (Redgrave and Gurney, 2006). In this paper we ask the question: can simple BG-mediated mechanisms account for a structured transition from variation to repetition, or are more sophisticated cognitive mechanisms always necessary? To address this question, we present a computational model of BG-mediated biasing of behavior. In our model, unlike most other models of BG function, the BG biases behavior through modulation of cortical response to excitation; many possible movements are represented by the cortical area; and excitation to the cortical area is topographically-organized. We subject the model to simple reaching tasks, inspired by behavioral studies, in which a location to which to reach must be selected. Locations within a target area elicit a reinforcement signal. A structured transition from variation to repetition emerges from simple BG-mediated biasing of cortical response to excitation. We show how the structured pattern influences behavior in simple and complicated tasks. We also present analyses that describe the structured transition from variation to repetition due to BG-mediated biasing and from biasing that would be expected from a type of cognitive biasing, allowing us to compare behavior resulting from these types of biasing and make connections with future behavioral experiments.
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