Publication
PLoS ONE
Paper

Imagery may arise from associations formed through sensory experience: A network of spiking neurons controlling a robot learns visual sequences in order to perform a mental rotation task

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Abstract

Mental imagery occurs "when a representation of the type created during the initial phases of perception is present but the stimulus is not actually being perceived." How does the capability to perform mental imagery arise? Extending the idea that imagery arises from learned associations, we propose that mental rotation, a specific form of imagery, could arise through the mechanism of sequence learning-that is, by learning to regenerate the sequence of mental images perceived while passively observing a rotating object. To demonstrate the feasibility of this proposal, we constructed a simulated nervous system and embedded it within a behaving humanoid robot. By observing a rotating object, the system learns the sequence of neural activity patterns generated by the visual system in response to the object. After learning, it can internally regenerate a similar sequence of neural activations upon briefly viewing the static object. This system learns to perform a mental rotation task in which the subject must determine whether two objects are identical despite differences in orientation. As with human subjects, the time taken to respond is proportional to the angular difference between the two stimuli. Moreover, as reported in humans, the system fills in intermediate angles during the task, and this putative mental rotation activates the same pathways that are activated when the system views physical rotation. This work supports the proposal that mental rotation arises through sequence learning and the idea that mental imagery AIDS perception through learned associations, and suggests testable predictions for biological experiments.

Date

21 Sep 2016

Publication

PLoS ONE

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