What mechanisms support our ability to estimate durations on the order of minutes? Behavioral studies in humans have shown that changes in contextual features lead to overestimation of past durations. Based on evidence that the medial temporal lobes and prefrontal cortex represent contextual features, we related the degree of fMRI pattern change in these regions with people's subsequent duration estimates. After listening to a radio story in the scanner, participants were asked how much time had elapsed between pairs of clips from the story. Our ROI analysis found that the neural pattern distance between two clips at encoding was correlated with duration estimates in the right entorhinal cortex and right pars orbitalis. Moreover, a whole-brain searchlight analysis revealed a cluster spanning the right anterior temporal lobe. Our findings provide convergent support for the hypothesis that retrospective time judgments are driven by 'drift' in contextual representations supported by these regions.
Our daily lives revolve around sharing experiences and memories with others. When different people recount the same events, how similar are their underlying neural representations? In this study, participants viewed a fifty-minute audio-visual movie, then verbally described the events while undergoing functional MRI. These descriptions were completely unguided and highly detailed, lasting for up to forty minutes. As each person spoke, event-specific spatial patterns were reinstated (movie-vs.-recall correlation) in default network, medial temporal, and high-level visual areas; moreover, individual event patterns were highly discriminable and similar between people during recollection (recall-vs.-recall similarity), suggesting the existence of spatially organized memory representations. In posterior medial cortex, medial prefrontal cortex, and angular gyrus, activity patterns during recall were more similar between people than to patterns elicited by the movie, indicating systematic reshaping of percept into memory across individuals. These results reveal striking similarity in how neural activity underlying real-life memories is organized and transformed in the brains of different people as they speak spontaneously about past events.
Extrapolation -- the ability to make inferences that go beyond the scope of one's experiences -- is a hallmark of human intelligence. By contrast, the generalization exhibited by contemporary neural network algorithms is largely limited to interpolation between data points in their training corpora. In this paper, we consider the challenge of learning representations that support extrapolation. We introduce a novel visual analogy benchmark that allows the graded evaluation of extrapolation as a function of distance from the convex domain defined by the training data. We also introduce a simple technique, context normalization, that encourages representations that emphasize the relations between objects. We find that this technique enables a significant improvement in the ability to extrapolate, considerably outperforming a number of competitive techniques.
In the attention schema theory, the brain constructs a model of attention, the attention schema, to aid in the endogenous control of attention. Growing behavioral evidence appears to support this proposal. However, a central question remains: does a controller of attention actually benefit by having access to an attention schema? We constructed an artificial, deep Q-learning, neural network agent that was trained to control a simple form of visuospatial attention, tracking a stimulus with its attention spotlight in order to solve a catch task. The agent was tested with and without access to an attention schema. In both conditions, the agent received sufficient information such that it should, theoretically, be able to learn the task. We found that with an attention schema present, the agent learned to control its attention spotlight and learned the catch task to a high degree of performance. Once the agent learned, if the attention schema was disabled, the agent could no longer perform effectively. If the attention schema was removed before learning began, the agent was drastically impaired at learning. The results show how the presence of even a simple attention schema provides a profound benefit to a controller of attention. We interpret these results as supporting the central argument of AST: the brain evolved an attention schema because of its practical benefit in the endogenous control of attention.
Small changes in word choice can lead to dramatically different interpretations of narratives. How does the brain accumulate and integrate such local changes to construct unique neural representations for different stories? In this study we created two distinct narratives by changing only a few words in each sentence (e.g. “he” to “she” or “sobbing” to “laughing”) while preserving the grammatical structure across stories. We then measured changes in neural responses between the two stories. We found that the differences in neural responses between the two stories gradually increased along the hierarchy of processing timescales. For areas with short integration windows, such as early auditory cortex, the differences in neural responses between the two stories were relatively small. In contrast, in areas with the longest integration windows at the top of the hierarchy, such as the precuneus, temporal parietal junction, and medial frontal cortices, there were large differences in neural responses between stories. Furthermore, this gradual increase in neural difference between the stories was highly correlated with an area’s ability to integrate information over time. Amplification of neural differences did not occur when changes in words did not alter the interpretation of the story (e.g. “sobbing” to “crying”). Our results demonstrate how subtle differences in words are gradually accumulated and amplified along the cortical hierarchy as the brain constructs a narrative over time.
Pacheco, Diego A; Thiberge, Stephan; Pnevmatikakis, Eftychios; Murthy, Mala
Sensory pathways are typically studied starting at receptor neurons and following postsynaptic neurons into the brain. However, this leads to a bias in analysis of activity towards the earliest layers of processing. Here, we present new methods for volumetric neural imaging with precise across-brain registration, to characterize auditory activity throughout the entire central brain of Drosophila and make comparisons across trials, individuals, and sexes. We discover that auditory activity is present in most central brain regions and in neurons responsive to other modalities. Auditory responses are temporally diverse, but the majority of activity is tuned to courtship song features. Auditory responses are stereotyped across trials and animals in early mechanosensory regions, becoming more variable at higher layers of the putative pathway, and this variability is largely independent of spontaneous movements. This study highlights the power of using an unbiased, brain-wide approach for mapping the functional organization of sensory activity.