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Hierarchical reinforcement learning and human behavior

Dr. Matthew Botvinick

Monday, October 28, 2013, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

Princeton University, Neuroscience Institute and Department of Psychology

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Research on human and animal behavior has long emphasized its hierarchical structure, according to which tasks are comprised of subtask sequences, which are themselves built of simple actions. The hierarchical structure of behavior has also been of enduring interest within neuroscience, where it has been widely considered to reflect prefrontal cortical functions. In recent work, we have been reexamining behavioral hierarchy and its neural substrates from the point of view of recent developments in computational reinforcement learning. Specifically, we've been considering at a set of approaches known collectively as hierarchical reinforcement learning, which extend the reinforcement learning paradigm by allowing the learning agent to aggregate actions into reusable subroutines or skills. A close look at the components of hierarchical reinforcement learning suggests how they might map onto neural structures, in particular regions within the dorsolateral and orbital prefrontal cortex. It also suggests specific ways in which hierarchical reinforcement learning might provide a complement to existing psychological models of hierarchically structured behavior. A particularly important question that hierarchical reinforcement learning brings to the fore is that of how learning identifies new action routines that are likely to provide useful building blocks in solving a wide range of future problems. Here and at many other points, hierarchical reinforcement learning offers an appealing framework for investigating the computational and neural underpinnings of hierarchically structured behavior. In addition to introducing the theoretical framework, I'll describe a first set of neuroimaging and behavioral studies, in which we have begun to test specific predictions.

Dr. Matthew Botvinick