Publications by Year: 2014

Geana, A., & Niv, Y. (2014). Causal model comparison shows that human representation learning is not Bayesian. Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology , 79, 161–168. PDFAbstract
How do we learn what features of our multidimensional environment are relevant in a given task? To study the computational process underlying this type of "representation learning," we propose a novel method of causal model comparison. Participants played a probabilistic learning task that required them to identify one relevant feature among several irrelevant ones. To compare between two models of this learning process, we ran each model alongside the participant during task performance, making predictions regarding the values underlying the participant's choices in real time. To test the validity of each model's predictions, we used the predicted values to try to perturb the participant's learning process: We crafted stimuli to either facilitate or hinder comparison between the most highly valued features. A model whose predictions coincide with the learned values in the participant's mind is expected to be effective in perturbing learning in this way, whereas a model whose predictions stray from the true learning process should not. Indeed, we show that in our task a reinforcement-learning model could help or hurt participants' learning, whereas a Bayesian ideal observer model could not. Beyond informing us about the notably suboptimal (but computationally more tractable) substrates of human representation learning, our manipulation suggests a sensitive method for model comparison, which allows us to change the course of people's learning in real time.
Soto, F. A., Gershman, S. J., & Niv, Y. (2014). Explaining compound generalization in associative and causal learning through rational principles of dimensional generalization. Psychological Review , 121 (3), 526–558. PDFAbstract
How do we apply learning from one situation to a similar, but not identical, situation? The principles governing the extent to which animals and humans generalize what they have learned about certain stimuli to novel compounds containing those stimuli vary depending on a number of factors. Perhaps the best studied among these factors is the type of stimuli used to generate compounds. One prominent hypothesis is that different generalization principles apply depending on whether the stimuli in a compound are similar or dissimilar to each other. However, the results of many experiments cannot be explained by this hypothesis. Here, we propose a rational Bayesian theory of compound generalization that uses the notion of consequential regions, first developed in the context of rational theories of multidimensional generalization, to explain the effects of stimulus factors on compound generalization. The model explains a large number of results from the compound generalization literature, including the influence of stimulus modality and spatial contiguity on the summation effect, the lack of influence of stimulus factors on summation with a recovered inhibitor, the effect of spatial position of stimuli on the blocking effect, the asymmetrical generalization decrement in overshadowing and external inhibition, and the conditions leading to a reliable external inhibition effect. By integrating rational theories of compound and dimensional generalization, our model provides the first comprehensive computational account of the effects of stimulus factors on compound generalization, including spatial and temporal contiguity between components, which have posed long-standing problems for rational theories of associative and causal learning.
Solway*, A., Diuk*, C., Córdova, N., Yee, D., Barto, A. G., Niv, Y., & Botvinick, M. M. (2014). Optimal Behavioral Hierarchy. PLoS Computational Biology , 10 (8), e1003779. PDFAbstract
Human behavior has long been recognized to display hierarchical structure: actions fit together into subtasks, which cohere into extended goal-directed activities. Arranging actions hierarchically has well established benefits, allowing behaviors to be represented efficiently by the brain, and allowing solutions to new tasks to be discovered easily. However, these payoffs depend on the particular way in which actions are organized into a hierarchy, the specific way in which tasks are carved up into subtasks. We provide a mathematical account for what makes some hierarchies better than others, an account that allows an optimal hierarchy to be identified for any set of tasks. We then present results from four behavioral experiments, suggesting that human learners spontaneously discover optimal action hierarchies.
Wilson, R. C., Takahashi, Y. K., Schoenbaum, G., & Niv, Y. (2014). Orbitofrontal Cortex as a Cognitive Map of Task Space. D. D. Lee, U. V. Luxburg, I. Guyon, & R. Garnett (Ed.), Neuron , 81 (2), 267–279 . Salt Lake City, Utah, Elsevier Inc. PDFAbstract
Orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) has long been known to play an important role in decision making. However, the exact nature of that role has remained elusive. Here, we propose a unifying theory of OFC function. We hypothesize that OFC provides an abstraction of currently available information in the form of a labeling of the current task state, which is used for reinforcement learning (RL) elsewhere in the brain. This function is especially critical when task states include unobservable information, for instance, from working memory. We use this framework to explain classic findings in reversal learning, delayed alternation, extinction, and devaluation as well as more recent findings showing the effect of OFC lesions on the firing of dopaminergic neurons in ventral tegmental area (VTA) in rodents performing an RL task. In addition, we generate a number of testable experimental predictions that can distinguish our theory from other accounts of OFC function. ?? 2014 Elsevier Inc.
Gershman, S. J., Radulescu, A., Norman, K. A., & Niv, Y. (2014). Statistical Computations Underlying the Dynamics of Memory Updating. PLoS Computational Biology , 10 (11), e1003939. PDFAbstract
Psychophysical and neurophysiological studies have suggested that memory is not simply a carbon copy of our experience: Memories are modified or new memories are formed depending on the dynamic structure of our experience, and specifically, on how gradually or abruptly the world changes. We present a statistical theory of memory formation in a dynamic environment, based on a nonparametric generalization of the switching Kalman filter. We show that this theory can qualitatively account for several psychophysical and neural phenomena, and present results of a new visual memory experiment aimed at testing the theory directly. Our experimental findings suggest that humans can use temporal discontinuities in the structure of the environment to determine when to form new memory traces. The statistical perspective we offer provides a coherent account of the conditions under which new experience is integrated into an old memory versus forming a new memory, and shows that memory formation depends on inferences about the underlying structure of our experience.