Year of publication
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- Infants in control: Rapid anticipation of action outcomes in a gaze-contingent paradigm (2012)
- Infants' poor motor abilities limit their interaction with their environment and render studying infant cognition notoriously difficult. Exceptions are eye movements, which reach high accuracy early, but generally do not allow manipulation of the physical environment. In this study, real-time eye tracking is used to put 6- and 8-month-old infants in direct control of their visual surroundings to study the fundamental problem of discovery of agency, i.e. the ability to infer that certain sensory events are caused by one's own actions. We demonstrate that infants quickly learn to perform eye movements to trigger the appearance of new stimuli and that they anticipate the consequences of their actions in as few as 3 trials. Our findings show that infants can rapidly discover new ways of controlling their environment. We suggest that gaze-contingent paradigms offer effective new ways for studying many aspects of infant learning and cognition in an interactive fashion and provide new opportunities for behavioral training and treatment in infants.
- Network self-organization explains the statistics and dynamics of synaptic connection strengths in cortex (2013)
- The information processing abilities of neural circuits arise from their synaptic connection patterns. Understanding the laws governing these connectivity patterns is essential for understanding brain function. The overall distribution of synaptic strengths of local excitatory connections in cortex and hippocampus is long-tailed, exhibiting a small number of synaptic connections of very large efficacy. At the same time, new synaptic connections are constantly being created and individual synaptic connection strengths show substantial fluctuations across time. It remains unclear through what mechanisms these properties of neural circuits arise and how they contribute to learning and memory. In this study we show that fundamental characteristics of excitatory synaptic connections in cortex and hippocampus can be explained as a consequence of self-organization in a recurrent network combining spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP), structural plasticity and different forms of homeostatic plasticity. In the network, associative synaptic plasticity in the form of STDP induces a rich-get-richer dynamics among synapses, while homeostatic mechanisms induce competition. Under distinctly different initial conditions, the ensuing self-organization produces long-tailed synaptic strength distributions matching experimental findings. We show that this self-organization can take place with a purely additive STDP mechanism and that multiplicative weight dynamics emerge as a consequence of network interactions. The observed patterns of fluctuation of synaptic strengths, including elimination and generation of synaptic connections and long-term persistence of strong connections, are consistent with the dynamics of dendritic spines found in rat hippocampus. Beyond this, the model predicts an approximately power-law scaling of the lifetimes of newly established synaptic connection strengths during development. Our results suggest that the combined action of multiple forms of neuronal plasticity plays an essential role in the formation and maintenance of cortical circuits.
- Visual working memory contents bias ambiguous structure from motion perception (2013)
- The way we perceive the visual world depends crucially on the state of the observer. In the present study we show that what we are holding in working memory (WM) can bias the way we perceive ambiguous structure from motion stimuli. Holding in memory the percept of an unambiguously rotating sphere influenced the perceived direction of motion of an ambiguously rotating sphere presented shortly thereafter. In particular, we found a systematic difference between congruent dominance periods where the perceived direction of the ambiguous stimulus corresponded to the direction of the unambiguous one and incongruent dominance periods. Congruent dominance periods were more frequent when participants memorized the speed of the unambiguous sphere for delayed discrimination than when they performed an immediate judgment on a change in its speed. The analysis of dominance time-course showed that a sustained tendency to perceive the same direction of motion as the prior stimulus emerged only in the WM condition, whereas in the attention condition perceptual dominance dropped to chance levels at the end of the trial. The results are explained in terms of a direct involvement of early visual areas in the active representation of visual motion in WM.
- Learning more by sampling less: subsampling effects are model specific (2013)
- Poster presentation: Twenty Second Annual Computational Neuroscience Meeting: CNS*2013. Paris, France. 13-18 July 2013. When studying real world complex networks, one rarely has full access to all their components. As an example, the central nervous system of the human consists of 1011 neurons which are each connected to thousands of other neurons . Of these 100 billion neurons, at most a few hundred can be recorded in parallel. Thus observations are hampered by immense subsampling. While subsampling does not affect the observables of single neuron activity, it can heavily distort observables which characterize interactions between pairs or groups of neurons . Without a precise understanding how subsampling affects these observables, inference on neural network dynamics from subsampled neural data remains limited. We systematically studied subsampling effects in three self-organized critical (SOC) models, since this class of models can reproduce the spatio-temporal activity of spontaneous activity observed in vivo [2,3]. The models differed in their topology and in their precise interaction rules. The first model consisted of locally connected integrate- and fire units, thereby resembling cortical activity propagation mechanisms . The second model had the same interaction rules but random connectivity . The third model had local connectivity but different activity propagation rules . As a measure of network dynamics, we characterized the spatio-temporal waves of activity, called avalanches. Avalanches are characteristic for SOC models and neural tissue . Avalanche measures A (e.g. size, duration, shape) were calculated for the fully sampled and the subsampled models. To mimic subsampling in the models, we considered the activity of a subset of units only, discarding the activity of all the other units. Under subsampling the avalanche measures A depended on three main factors: First, A depended on the interaction rules of the model and its topology, thus each model showed its own characteristic subsampling effects on A. Second, A depended on the number of sampled sites n. With small and intermediate n, the true A¬ could not be recovered in any of the models. Third, A depended on the distance d between sampled sites. With small d, A was overestimated, while with large d, A was underestimated. Since under subsampling, the observables depended on the model's topology and interaction mechanisms, we propose that systematic subsampling can be exploited to compare models with neural data: When changing the number and the distance between electrodes in neural tissue and sampled units in a model analogously, the observables in a correct model should behave the same as in the neural tissue. Thereby, incorrect models can easily be discarded. Thus, systematic subsampling offers a promising and unique approach to model selection, even if brain activity was far from being fully sampled.
- Robust active binocular vision through intrinsically motivated learning (2013)
- The efficient coding hypothesis posits that sensory systems of animals strive to encode sensory signals efficiently by taking into account the redundancies in them. This principle has been very successful in explaining response properties of visual sensory neurons as adaptations to the statistics of natural images. Recently, we have begun to extend the efficient coding hypothesis to active perception through a form of intrinsically motivated learning: a sensory model learns an efficient code for the sensory signals while a reinforcement learner generates movements of the sense organs to improve the encoding of the signals. To this end, it receives an intrinsically generated reinforcement signal indicating how well the sensory model encodes the data. This approach has been tested in the context of binocular vison, leading to the autonomous development of disparity tuning and vergence control. Here we systematically investigate the robustness of the new approach in the context of a binocular vision system implemented on a robot. Robustness is an important aspect that reflects the ability of the system to deal with unmodeled disturbances or events, such as insults to the system that displace the stereo cameras. To demonstrate the robustness of our method and its ability to self-calibrate, we introduce various perturbations and test if and how the system recovers from them. We find that (1) the system can fully recover from a perturbation that can be compensated through the system's motor degrees of freedom, (2) performance degrades gracefully if the system cannot use its motor degrees of freedom to compensate for the perturbation, and (3) recovery from a perturbation is improved if both the sensory encoding and the behavior policy can adapt to the perturbation. Overall, this work demonstrates that our intrinsically motivated learning approach for efficient coding in active perception gives rise to a self-calibrating perceptual system of high robustness.
- Nonlinear dynamics analysis of a self-organizing recurrent neural network: chaos waning (2014)
- Self-organization is thought to play an important role in structuring nervous systems. It frequently arises as a consequence of plasticity mechanisms in neural networks: connectivity determines network dynamics which in turn feed back on network structure through various forms of plasticity. Recently, self-organizing recurrent neural network models (SORNs) have been shown to learn non-trivial structure in their inputs and to reproduce the experimentally observed statistics and fluctuations of synaptic connection strengths in cortex and hippocampus. However, the dynamics in these networks and how they change with network evolution are still poorly understood. Here we investigate the degree of chaos in SORNs by studying how the networks' self-organization changes their response to small perturbations. We study the effect of perturbations to the excitatory-to-excitatory weight matrix on connection strengths and on unit activities. We find that the network dynamics, characterized by an estimate of the maximum Lyapunov exponent, becomes less chaotic during its self-organization, developing into a regime where only few perturbations become amplified. We also find that due to the mixing of discrete and (quasi-)continuous variables in SORNs, small perturbations to the synaptic weights may become amplified only after a substantial delay, a phenomenon we propose to call deferred chaos.
- Slicing, sampling, and distance-dependent effects affect network measures in simulated cortical circuit structures (2014)
- The neuroanatomical connectivity of cortical circuits is believed to follow certain rules, the exact origins of which are still poorly understood. In particular, numerous nonrandom features, such as common neighbor clustering, overrepresentation of reciprocal connectivity, and overrepresentation of certain triadic graph motifs have been experimentally observed in cortical slice data. Some of these data, particularly regarding bidirectional connectivity are seemingly contradictory, and the reasons for this are unclear. Here we present a simple static geometric network model with distance-dependent connectivity on a realistic scale that naturally gives rise to certain elements of these observed behaviors, and may provide plausible explanations for some of the conflicting findings. Specifically, investigation of the model shows that experimentally measured nonrandom effects, especially bidirectional connectivity, may depend sensitively on experimental parameters such as slice thickness and sampling area, suggesting potential explanations for the seemingly conflicting experimental results.