Learning efficient representations of environmental priors in working memory Journal Article uri icon



  • AbstractExperience shapes our expectations and helps us learn the structure of the environment. Inference models render such learning as a gradual refinement of the observer’s estimate of the environmental prior. For instance, when retaining an estimate of an object’s features in working memory, learned priors may bias the estimate in the direction of common feature values. Humans display such biases when retaining color estimates on short time intervals. We propose that these systematic biases emerge from modulation of synaptic connectivity in a neural circuit based on the experienced stimulus history, shaping the persistent and collective neural activity that encodes the stimulus estimate. Resulting neural activity attractors are aligned to common stimulus values. Using recently published human response data from a delayed-estimation task in which stimuli (colors) were drawn from a heterogeneous distribution that did not necessarily correspond with reported population biases, we confirm that most subjects’ response distributions are better described by experience-dependent learning models than by models with no learned biases. This work suggests that systematic limitations in working memory reflect efficient representations of inferred environmental structure, providing new insights into how humans integrate environmental knowledge into their cognitive strategies.

publication date

  • July 6, 2022

has restriction

  • green

Date in CU Experts

  • July 19, 2022 12:52 PM

Full Author List

  • Eissa TL; Kilpatrick ZP

author count

  • 2

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