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J Theor Biol. 2012 Jun 7;302:39-52.

Does natural selection favour the Rescorla-Wagner rule?

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School of Biological Sciences, Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UG, UK.


A fundamental question relating to animal behaviour is how animals learn; in particular, how they come to associate stimuli with rewards. Numerous empirical findings can be explained by assuming that animals use some mechanism similar to the Rescorla-Wagner learning rule, which is a relatively simple and highly general method of updating the associative strength between different stimuli. However, the Rescorla-Wagner rule is often not optimal, which raises the question of why a rule with such properties should have evolved. We consider the evolution of learning rules in a simple environment where there exists an optimal rule of similar complexity to the Rescorla-Wagner rule. We show that because the Rescorla-Wagner rule is less sensitive to changes in its parameters than the optimal rule, there is a wider range of parameter values over which the rule structure is initially viable. Consequently, the Rescorla-Wagner rule can be favoured by natural selection, ahead of other rules which are more accurate.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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