Publications by Year: 2016

Eldar, E., Cohen, J. D., & Niv, Y. (2016). Amplified selectivity in cognitive processing implements the neural gain model of norepinephrine function. The Behavioral and brain sciences , 39, e206. PDFAbstract
Previous work has suggested that an interaction between local selective (e.g., glutamatergic) excitation and global gain modulation (via norepinephrine) amplifies selectivity in information processing. Mather et al. extend this existing theory by suggesting that localized gain modulation may further mediate this effect – an interesting prospect that invites new theoretical and experimental work.
Cai, M. B., & Schuck, N. W. (2016). A Bayesian method for reducing bias in neural representational similarity analysis. In D. D. Lee, U. V. Luxburg, I. Guyon, & R. Garnett (Ed.), Advances In Neural Information Processing Systems 29 (pp. 4952–4960) . Curran Associates, Inc. PDFAbstract
In neuroscience, the similarity matrix of neural activity patterns in response to different sensory stimuli or under different cognitive states reflects the structure of neural representational space. Existing methods derive point estimations of neural activity patterns from noisy neural imaging data, and the similarity is calculated from these point estimations. We show that this approach translates structured noise from estimated patterns into spurious bias structure in the resulting similarity matrix, which is especially severe when signal-to-noise ratio is low and experimental conditions cannot be fully randomized in a cognitive task. We propose an alternative Bayesian framework for computing representational similarity in which we treat the covariance structure of neural activity patterns as a hyperparameter in a generative model of the neural data, and directly estimate this covariance structure from imaging data while marginalizing over the unknown activity patterns. Converting the estimated covariance structure into a correlation matrix offers a much less biased estimate of neural representational similarity. Our method can also simultaneously estimate a signal-to-noise map that informs where the learned representational structure is supported more strongly, and the learned covariance matrix can be used as a structured prior to constrain Bayesian estimation of neural activity patterns. Our code is freely available in Brain Imaging Analysis Kit (Brainiak) (
Kurth-Nelson, Z., O'Doherty, J. P., Barch, D. M., Denève, S., Durstewitz, D., Frank, M. J., Gordon, J. A., et al. (2016). Computational Approaches for Studying Mechanisms of Psychiatric Disorders. In Computational Psychiatry . The MIT Press. PDFAbstract
Vast spectra of biological and psychological processes are potentially involved in the mechanisms of psychiatric illness. Computational neuroscience brings a diverse toolkit to bear on understanding these processes. This chapter begins by organizing the many ways in which computational neuroscience may provide insight to the mechanisms of psychiatric illness. It then contextualizes the quest for deep mechanistic understanding through the perspective that even partial or nonmechanistic understanding can be applied productively. Finally, it questions the standards by which these approaches...
Eldar, E., Niv, Y., & Cohen, J. D. (2016). Do You See the Forest or the Tree? Neural Gain and Breadth Versus Focus in Perceptual Processing. Psychological Science , 27 (12), 1632–1643. PDFAbstract
When perceiving rich sensory information, some people may integrate its various aspects, whereas other people may selectively focus on its most salient aspects. We propose that neural gain modulates the trade-off between breadth and selectivity, such that high gain focuses perception on those aspects of the information that have the strongest, most immediate influence, whereas low gain allows broader integration of different aspects. We illustrate our hypothesis using a neural-network model of ambiguous-letter perception. We then report an experiment demonstrating that, as predicted by the model, pupil-diameter indices of higher gain are associated with letter perception that is more selectively focused on the letter's shape or, if primed, its semantic content. Finally, we report a recognition-memory experiment showing that the relationship between gain and selective processing also applies when the influence of different stimulus features is voluntarily modulated by task demands.
Arkadir, D., Radulescu, A., Raymond, D., Lubarr, N., Bressman, S. B., Mazzoni, P., & Niv, Y. (2016). DYT1 dystonia increases risk taking in humans. eLife , 5 (JUN2016). PDFAbstract
It has been difficult to link synaptic modification to overt behavioral changes. Rodent models of DYT1 dystonia, a motor disorder caused by a single gene mutation, demonstrate increased long-term potentiation and decreased long-term depression in corticostriatal synapses. Computationally, such asymmetric learning predicts risk taking in probabilistic tasks. Here we demonstrate abnormal risk taking in DYT1 dystonia patients, which is correlated with disease severity, thereby supporting striatal plasticity in shaping choice behavior in humans.
Radulescu, A., Daniel, R., & Niv, Y. (2016). The effects of aging on the interaction between reinforcement learning and attention. Psychology and Aging , 31 (7), 747–757. PDFAbstract
Predicting the binding mode of flexible polypeptides to proteins is an important task that falls outside the domain of applicability of most small molecule and protein−protein docking tools. Here, we test the small molecule flexible ligand docking program Glide on a set of 19 non-\(\alpha\)-helical peptides and systematically improve pose prediction accuracy by enhancing Glide sampling for flexible polypeptides. In addition, scoring of the poses was improved by post-processing with physics-based implicit solvent MM- GBSA calculations. Using the best RMSD among the top 10 scoring poses as a metric, the success rate (RMSD ≤ 2.0 \AAfor the interface backbone atoms) increased from 21% with default Glide SP settings to 58% with the enhanced peptide sampling and scoring protocol in the case of redocking to the native protein structure. This approaches the accuracy of the recently developed Rosetta FlexPepDock method (63% success for these 19 peptides) while being over 100 times faster. Cross-docking was performed for a subset of cases where an unbound receptor structure was available, and in that case, 40% of peptides were docked successfully. We analyze the results and find that the optimized polypeptide protocol is most accurate for extended peptides of limited size and number of formal charges, defining a domain of applicability for this approach.
Schuck, N. W., Cai, M. B., Wilson, R. C., & Niv, Y. (2016). Human Orbitofrontal Cortex Represents a Cognitive Map of State Space. Neuron , 91 (6), 1402–1412. PDFAbstract
Although the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) has been studied intensely for decades, its precise functions have remained elusive. We recently hypothesized that the OFC contains a “cognitive map” of task space in which the current state of the task is represented, and this representation is especially critical for behavior when states are unobservable from sensory input. To test this idea, we apply pattern-classification techniques to neuroimaging data from humans performing a decision-making task with 16 states. We show that unobservable task states can be decoded from activity in OFC, and decoding accuracy is related to task performance and the occurrence of individual behavioral errors. Moreover, similarity between the neural representations of consecutive states correlates with behavioral accuracy in corresponding state transitions. These results support the idea that OFC represents a cognitive map of task space and establish the feasibility of decoding state representations in humans using non-invasive neuroimaging.
Eldar*, E., Rutledge*, R. B., Dolan, R. J., & Niv, Y. (2016). Mood as Representation of Momentum. Trends in Cognitive Sciences , 20 (1), 15–24. PDFAbstract
Experiences affect mood, which in turn affects subsequent experiences. Recent studies suggest two specific principles. First, mood depends on how recent reward outcomes differ from expectations. Second, mood biases the way we perceive outcomes (e.g., rewards), and this bias affects learning about those outcomes. We propose that this two-way interaction serves to mitigate inefficiencies in the application of reinforcement learning to real-world problems. Specifically, we propose that mood represents the overall momentum of recent outcomes, and its biasing influence on the perception of outcomes 'corrects' learning to account for environmental dependencies. We describe potential dysfunctions of this adaptive mechanism that might contribute to the symptoms of mood disorders.
Chan, S. C. Y., Niv*, Y., & Norman*, K. A. (2016). A probability distribution over latent causes, in the orbitofrontal cortex. Journal of Neuroscience , 36 (30), 7817–7828. PDFAbstract
The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) has been implicated in both the representation of "state," in studies of reinforcement learning and decision making, and also in the representation of "schemas," in studies of episodic memory. Both of these cognitive constructs require a similar inference about the underlying situation or "latent cause" that generates our observations at any given time. The statistically optimal solution to this inference problem is to use Bayes' rule to compute a posterior probability distribution over latent causes. To test whether such a posterior probability distribution is represented in the OFC, we tasked human participants with inferring a probability distribution over four possible latent causes, based on their observations. Using fMRI pattern similarity analyses, we found that BOLD activity in the OFC is best explained as representing the (log-transformed) posterior distribution over latent causes. Furthermore, this pattern explained OFC activity better than other task-relevant alternatives, such as the most probable latent cause, the most recent observation, or the uncertainty over latent causes. ©2016 the authors.
Niv, Y., & Langdon, A. J. (2016). Reinforcement learning with Marr. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences , 11, 67–73. PDFAbstract
To many, the poster child for David Marr's famous three levels of scientific inquiry is reinforcement learning – a computational theory of reward optimization, which readily prescribes algorithmic solutions that evidence striking resemblance to signals found in the brain, suggesting a straightforward neural implementation. Here we review questions that remain open at each level of analysis, concluding that the path forward to their resolution calls for inspiration across levels, rather than a focus on mutual constraints.
Takahashi*, Y. K., Langdon*, A. J., Niv, Y., & Schoenbaum, G. (2016). Temporal Specificity of Reward Prediction Errors Signaled by Putative Dopamine Neurons in Rat VTA Depends on Ventral Striatum. Neuron , 91 (1), 182–193. PDFAbstract
Dopamine neurons signal reward prediction errors. This requires accurate reward predictions. It has been suggested that the ventral striatum provides these predictions. Here we tested this hypothesis by recording from putative dopamine neurons in the VTA of rats performing a task in which prediction errors were induced by shifting reward timing or number. In controls, the neurons exhibited error signals in response to both manipulations. However, dopamine neurons in rats with ipsilateral ventral striatal lesions exhibited errors only to changes in number and failed to respond to changes in timing of reward. These results, supported by computational modeling, indicate that predictions about the temporal specificity and the number of expected reward are dissociable and that dopaminergic prediction-error signals rely on the ventral striatum for the former but not the latter.