The complementary learning systems theory of the roles of hippocampus and neocortex (McClelland, McNaughton, & O'Reilly, 1995) holds that the rapid integration of arbitrary new information into neocortical structures is avoided to prevent catastrophic interference with structured knowledge representations stored in synaptic connections among neocortical neurons. Recent studies (Tse et al., 2007, 2011) showed that neocortical circuits can rapidly acquire new associations that are consistent with prior knowledge. The findings challenge the complementary learning systems theory as previously presented. However, new simulations extending those reported in McClelland et al. (1995) show that new information that is consistent with knowledge previously acquired by a putatively cortexlike artificial neural network can be learned rapidly and without interfering with existing knowledge; it is when inconsistent new knowledge is acquired quickly that catastrophic interference ensues. Several important features of the findings of Tse et al. (2007, 2011) are captured in these simulations, indicating that the neural network model used in McClelland et al. has characteristics in common with neocortical learning mechanisms. An additional simulation generalizes beyond the network model previously used, showing how the rate of change of cortical connections can depend on prior knowledge in an arguably more biologically plausible network architecture. In sum, the findings of Tse et al. are fully consistent with the idea that hippocampus and neocortex are complementary learning systems. Taken together, these findings and the simulations reported here advance our knowledge by bringing out the role of consistency of new experience with existing knowledge and demonstrating that the rate of change of connections in real and artificial neural networks can be strongly prior-knowledge dependent.
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