Learning rule influences recurrent network representations but not attractor structure in decision-making tasks

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Brandon McMahan, Michael Kleinman, Jonathan Kao


Recurrent neural networks (RNNs) are popular tools for studying computational dynamics in neurobiological circuits. However, due to the dizzying array of design choices, it is unclear if computational dynamics unearthed from RNNs provide reliable neurobiological inferences. Understanding the effects of design choices on RNN computation is valuable in two ways. First, invariant properties that persist in RNNs across a wide range of design choices are more likely to be candidate neurobiological mechanisms. Second, understanding what design choices lead to similar dynamical solutions reduces the burden of imposing that all design choices be totally faithful replications of biology. We focus our investigation on how RNN learning rule and task design affect RNN computation. We trained large populations of RNNs with different, but commonly used, learning rules on decision-making tasks inspired by neuroscience literature. For relatively complex tasks, we find that attractor topology is invariant to the choice of learning rule, but representational geometry is not. For simple tasks, we find that attractor topology depends on task input noise. However, when a task becomes increasingly complex, RNN attractor topology becomes invariant to input noise. Together, our results suggest that RNN dynamics are robust across learning rules but can be sensitive to the training task design, especially for simpler tasks.