The real world is uncertain, and while ever changing, it constantly presents itself in terms of new sets of behavioral options. To attain the flexibility required to tackle these challenges successfully, most mammalian brains are equipped with certain computational abilities that rely on the prefrontal cortex (PFC). By examining learning in terms of internal models associating stimuli, actions, and outcomes, we argue here that adaptive behavior relies on specific interactions between multiple systems including: (1) selective models learning stimulus–action associations through rewards; (2) predictive models learning stimulus- and/or action–outcome associations through statistical inferences anticipating behavioral outcomes; and (3) contextual models learning external cues associated with latent states of the environment. Critically, the PFC combines these internal models by forming task sets to drive behavior and, moreover, constantly evaluates the reliability of actor task sets in predicting external contingencies to switch between task sets or create new ones. We review different models of adaptive behavior to demonstrate how their components map onto this unifying framework and specific PFC regions. Finally, we discuss how our framework may help to better understand the neural computations and the cognitive architecture of PFC regions guiding adaptive behavior.
The prefrontal cortex encodes and stores numerous, often disparate, schemas and flexibly switches between them. Recent research on artificial neural networks trained by reinforcement learning has made it possible to model fundamental processes underlying schema encoding and storage. Yet how the brain is able to create new schemas while preserving and utilizing old schemas remains unclear. Here we propose a simple neural network framework that incorporates hierarchical gating to model the prefrontal cortex’s ability to flexibly encode and use multiple disparate schemas. We show how gating naturally leads to transfer learning and robust memory savings. We then show how neuropsychological impairments observed in patients with prefrontal damage are mimicked by lesions of our network. Our architecture, which we call DynaMoE, provides a fundamental framework for how the prefrontal cortex may handle the abundance of schemas necessary to navigate the real world.
- Publication Date:
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Journal Name:
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
- Page Range or eLocation-ID:
- p. 29872-29882
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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