A Latent Cause Model of Classical Conditioning

Aaron Courville
doctoral dissertation, tech. report , Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, June, 2006

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Classical conditioning experiments probe what animals learn about their environment. This thesis presents an exploration of the latent cause theory of classical conditioning. According to the theory, animals assume that events within their environment are attributable to a latent cause. Learning is interpreted as an attempt to recover the generative model that gave rise to these observed events. In this thesis, the latent cause theory is applied to three distinct areas of classical conditioning, in each case offering a novel account of empirical phenomena.

In the first instance, the effects of inference over an uncertain latent cause model structure are explored. A key property of Bayesian structural inference is the tradeoff between the model complexity and data fidelity. Recognizing the equivalence between this tradeoff and the tradeoff between generalization and discrimination found in configural conditioning suggests a statistical account of these phenomena. By considering model simulations of a number of conditioning paradigms (including some not previously viewed as "configural"), behavioral signs that animals employ model complexity tradeoffs are revealed.

Next, the consequence of merging latent variable theory with a generative model of change are studied. A model of change describes how the parameters and structure of the latent cause model evolve over time. The resulting non-stationary latent cause model offers a novel perspective on the factors that influence animal judgments regarding environmental change. In particular, the model correctly predicts that the introduction of an unexpected stimulus can spur fast learning.

Finally a version of a latent cause model is developed that explicitly encodes a latent timeline to which observed stimuli and reinforcements are associated, preserving their temporal order. In this context, the latent cause model is equivalent to a hidden Markov model. This model is able to account for a theoretically challenging set of experiments which col- lectively suggest that animals encode the temporal relationships among stimuli and use this representation to predict impending reinforcement.

This thesis offers a unified theoretical framework for classical conditioning. It uses state of the art statistical methods to explore a novel theoretical account of a wide range of empirical phenomena, many of which have otherwise resisted a computational explanation

Associated Lab(s) / Group(s): Tekkotsu Lab
Associated Project(s): Skinnerbots
Number of pages: 172

Text Reference
Aaron Courville, "A Latent Cause Model of Classical Conditioning," doctoral dissertation, tech. report , Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, June, 2006

BibTeX Reference
   author = "Aaron Courville",
   title = "A Latent Cause Model of Classical Conditioning",
   booktitle = "",
   school = "Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University",
   month = "June",
   year = "2006",