Design Principles of the Hippocampal Cognitive Map

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 27 (NIPS 2014)

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Kimberly L. Stachenfeld, Matthew Botvinick, Samuel J. Gershman


Hippocampal place fields have been shown to reflect behaviorally relevant aspects of space. For instance, place fields tend to be skewed along commonly traveled directions, they cluster around rewarded locations, and they are constrained by the geometric structure of the environment. We hypothesize a set of design principles for the hippocampal cognitive map that explain how place fields represent space in a way that facilitates navigation and reinforcement learning. In particular, we suggest that place fields encode not just information about the current location, but also predictions about future locations under the current transition distribution. Under this model, a variety of place field phenomena arise naturally from the structure of rewards, barriers, and directional biases as reflected in the transition policy. Furthermore, we demonstrate that this representation of space can support efficient reinforcement learning. We also propose that grid cells compute the eigendecomposition of place fields in part because is useful for segmenting an enclosure along natural boundaries. When applied recursively, this segmentation can be used to discover a hierarchical decomposition of space. Thus, grid cells might be involved in computing subgoals for hierarchical reinforcement learning.