Human and non-human primates can learn an astonishing variety of novel behaviours that could not have been directly anticipated by evolution. This ability to cope with new situations is due to the "pre-adapted" nature of the primate brain, suggests a study.
The brain anticipates all of the new situations that it may encounter in a lifetime by creating a special kind of neural network, the study said. The findings appeared in the journal PLOS Computational Biology.
‘By allowing essentially unlimited combinations of internal representations in the network of the brain, one of them is always on hand for the given situation.’
For the study, researchers from French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) investigated one of the most noteworthy properties of primate behavior, its diversity and adaptability.
This study showed that our seemingly miraculous pre-adaptation comes from connections between neurons that form recurrent loops where inputs can rebound and mix in the network, like waves in a pond, thus called "reservoir" computing. This mix of the inputs allows a potentially universal representation of combinations of the inputs that can then be used to learn the right behaviour for a new situation.
The authors demonstrated this by training a reservoir network to perform a novel problem-solving task. They then compared the activity of neurons in the model with activity of neurons in the prefrontal cortex of a primate that was trained to perform the same task.
Remarkably, there were striking similarities in the activation of neurons in both the reservoir model and the primate. The findings showed that by allowing essentially unlimited combinations of internal representations in the network of the brain, one of them is always on hand for the given situation.