Reinforcement Learning and Insight in the Artificial Pigeon

AbstractThe phenomenon of insight (also called "Aha!" or "Eureka!" moments) is considered a core component of creative cognition. It is also a puzzle and a challenge for statistics-based approaches to behavior such as associative learning and reinforcement learning. We simulate a classic experiment on insight in pigeons using deep Reinforcement Learning. We show that prior experience may produce large and rapid performance improvements reminiscent of insights, and we suggest theoretical connections between concepts from machine learning (such as the value function or overfitting) and concepts from psychology (such as feelings-of-warmth and the einstellung effect). However, the simulated pigeons were slower than the real pigeons at solving the test problem, requiring a greater amount of trial and error: their "insightful" behavior was sudden by comparison with learning from scratch, but slow by comparison with real pigeons. This leaves open the question of whether incremental improvements to reinforcement learning algorithms will be sufficient to produce insightful behavior.

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