Study suggests animals think probabilistically to distinguish contexts

Wednesday, August 12, 2020 - 13:30 in Psychology & Sociology

Among the many things rodents have taught neuroscientists is that, in a region called the hippocampus, the brain creates a new map for every unique spatial context — for instance, a different room or maze. But scientists have so far struggled to learn how animals decide when a context is novel enough to merit creating, or at least revising, these mental maps. In a study in eLife, MIT and Harvard University researchers propose a new understanding: The process of “remapping” can be mathematically modeled as a feat of probabilistic reasoning by the rodents. The approach offers scientists a new way to interpret many experiments that depend on measuring remapping to investigate learning and memory. Remapping is integral to that pursuit, because animals (and people) associate learning closely with context, and hippocampal maps indicate which context an animal believes itself to be in. “People have previously asked ‘What changes in the environment cause...

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