Lateral Inhibition Overcomes Limits of Temporal Difference Learning


There is growing support for Temporal Difference (TD) Learning as a formal account of the role of the midbrain dopamine system and the basal ganglia in learning from reinforcement. This account is challenged, however, by the fact that realistic implementations of TD Learning have been shown to fail on some fairly simple learning tasks — tasks well within the capabilities of humans and non-human animals. We hypothesize that such failures do not arise from natural learning systems because of the ubiquitous appearance of lateral inhibition in the cortex, producing sparse conjunctive internal representations that support the learning of predictions of future reward. We provide support for this conjecture through computational simulations that compare TD Learning systems with and without lateral inhibition, demonstrating the benefits of sparse conjunctive codes for reinforcement learning.

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