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Learning to Use Working Memory in Partially Observable Environments through Dopaminergic Reinforcement
Michael Todd · Yael Niv · Jonathan D Cohen

Tue Dec 09 07:30 PM -- 12:00 AM (PST) @

Working memory is a central topic of cognitive neuroscience because it is critical for solving real world problems in which information from multiple temporally distant sources must be combined to generate appropriate behavior. However, an often neglected fact is that learning to use working memory effectively is itself a difficult problem. The "Gating" framework is a collection of psychological models that show how dopamine can train the basal ganglia and prefrontal cortex to form useful working memory representations in certain types of problems. We bring together gating with ideas from machine learning about using finite memory systems in more general problems. Thus we present a normative Gating model that learns, by online temporal difference methods, to use working memory to maximize discounted future rewards in general partially observable settings. The model successfully solves a benchmark working memory problem, and exhibits limitations similar to those observed in human experiments. Moreover, the model introduces a concise, normative definition of high level cognitive concepts such as working memory and cognitive control in terms of maximizing discounted future rewards.

Author Information

Michael Todd (Princeton University)
Yael Niv (Princeton University)

Yael Niv received her MA in psychobiology from Tel Aviv University and her PhD from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, having conducted a major part of her thesis research at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit in UCL. After a short postdoc at Princeton she became faculty at the Psychology Department and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. Her lab's research focuses on the neural and computational processes underlying reinforcement learning and decision-making in humans and animals, with a particular focus on representation learning. She recently co-founded the Rutgers-Princeton Center for Computational Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, and is currently taking the research in her lab in the direction of computational psychiatry.

Jonathan D Cohen (Princeton University)

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