Carmen Sandi, Wulfram Gerstner, Gediminas Lukšys
Suppose we train an animal in a conditioning experiment. Can one predict how a given animal, under given experimental conditions, would perform the task? Since various factors such as stress, motivation, genetic background, and previous errors in task performance can influence animal behaviour, this appears to be a very challenging aim. Reinforcement learning (RL) models have been successful in modeling animal (and human) behaviour, but their success has been limited because of uncertainty as to how to set meta-parameters (such as learning rate, exploitation-exploration balance and future reward discount factor) that strongly influence model performance. We show that a simple RL model whose metaparameters are controlled by an artificial neural network, fed with inputs such as stress, affective phenotype, previous task performance, and even neuromodulatory manipulations, can successfully predict mouse behaviour in the "hole-box" - a simple conditioning task. Our results also provide important insights on how stress and anxiety affect animal learning, performance accuracy, and discounting of future rewards, and on how noradrenergic systems can interact with these processes.