Learning of Chunking Sequences in Cognition and Behavior, PLOS Computational Biology
We often learn and recall long sequences in smaller segments, such as a phone number 858 534 22 30 memorized as four segments. Behavioral experiments suggest that humans and some animals employ this strategy of breaking down cognitive or behavioral sequences into chunks in a wide variety of tasks, but the dynamical principles of how this is achieved remains unknown. Here, we study the temporal dynamics of chunking for learning cognitive sequences in a chunking representation using a dynamical model of competing modes arranged to evoke hierarchical Winnerless Competition (WLC) dynamics. Sequential memory is represented as trajectories along a chain of metastable fixed points at each level of the hierarchy, and bistable Hebbian dynamics enables the learning of such trajectories in an unsupervised fashion. Using computer simulations, we demonstrate the learning of a chunking representation of sequences and their robust recall. During learning, the dynamics associates a set of modes to each information-carrying item in the sequence and encodes their relative order. During recall, hierarchical WLC guarantees the robustness of the sequence order when the sequence is not too long. The resulting patterns of activities share several features observed in behavioral experiments, such as the pauses between boundaries of chunks, their size and their duration. Failures in learning chunking sequences provide new insights into the dynamical causes of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Schizophrenia.
Many thanks to Mikhail Rabinovich (UCSD) for advising and supporting this research!