October 2019, Vol. 31, No. 10, Pages 1945-1963
© 2019 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
A Minimum Free Energy Model of Motor Learning
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Even highly trained behaviors demonstrate variability, which is correlated with performance on current and future tasks. An objective of motor learning that is general enough to explain these phenomena has not been precisely formulated. In this six-week longitudinal learning study, participants practiced a set of motor sequences each day, and neuroimaging data were collected on days 1, 14, 28, and 42 to capture the neural correlates of the learning process. In our analysis, we first modeled the underlying neural and behavioral dynamics during learning. Our results demonstrate that the densities of whole-brain response, task-active regional response, and behavioral performance evolve according to a Fokker-Planck equation during the acquisition of a motor skill. We show that this implies that the brain concurrently optimizes the entropy of a joint density over neural response and behavior (as measured by sampling over multiple trials and subjects) and the expected performance under this density; we call this formulation of learning minimum free energy learning (MFEL). This model provides an explanation as to how behavioral variability can be tuned while simultaneously improving performance during learning. We then develop a novel variant of inverse reinforcement learning to retrieve the cost function optimized by the brain during the learning process, as well as the parameter used to tune variability. We show that this population-level analysis can be used to derive a learning objective that each subject optimizes during his or her study. In this way, MFEL effectively acts as a unifying principle, allowing users to precisely formulate learning objectives and infer their structure.