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Front Psychol. 2013 Nov 5;4:800. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00800. eCollection 2013.

Imitation learning based on an intrinsic motivation mechanism for efficient coding.

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Department of Neuroscience, Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies Frankfurt, Germany.


A hypothesis regarding the development of imitation learning is presented that is rooted in intrinsic motivations. It is derived from a recently proposed form of intrinsically motivated learning (IML) for efficient coding in active perception, wherein an agent learns to perform actions with its sense organs to facilitate efficient encoding of the sensory data. To this end, actions of the sense organs that improve the encoding of the sensory data trigger an internally generated reinforcement signal. Here it is argued that the same IML mechanism might also support the development of imitation when general actions beyond those of the sense organs are considered: The learner first observes a tutor performing a behavior and learns a model of the the behavior's sensory consequences. The learner then acts itself and receives an internally generated reinforcement signal reflecting how well the sensory consequences of its own behavior are encoded by the sensory model. Actions that are more similar to those of the tutor will lead to sensory signals that are easier to encode and produce a higher reinforcement signal. Through this, the learner's behavior is progressively tuned to make the sensory consequences of its actions match the learned sensory model. I discuss this mechanism in the context of human language acquisition and bird song learning where similar ideas have been proposed. The suggested mechanism also offers an account for the development of mirror neurons and makes a number of predictions. Overall, it establishes a connection between principles of efficient coding, intrinsic motivations and imitation.


active perception; bird song; efficient coding; imitation; intrinsic motivation; language development; mirror neuron; perceptual fluency

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