Linking normative models of natural tasks to descriptive models of neural response

J Vis. 2017 Oct 1;17(12):16. doi: 10.1167/17.12.16.


Understanding how nervous systems exploit task-relevant properties of sensory stimuli to perform natural tasks is fundamental to the study of perceptual systems. However, there are few formal methods for determining which stimulus properties are most useful for a given natural task. As a consequence, it is difficult to develop principled models for how to compute task-relevant latent variables from natural signals, and it is difficult to evaluate descriptive models fit to neural response. Accuracy maximization analysis (AMA) is a recently developed Bayesian method for finding the optimal task-specific filters (receptive fields). Here, we introduce AMA-Gauss, a new faster form of AMA that incorporates the assumption that the class-conditional filter responses are Gaussian distributed. Then, we use AMA-Gauss to show that its assumptions are justified for two fundamental visual tasks: retinal speed estimation and binocular disparity estimation. Next, we show that AMA-Gauss has striking formal similarities to popular quadratic models of neural response: the energy model and the generalized quadratic model (GQM). Together, these developments deepen our understanding of why the energy model of neural response have proven useful, improve our ability to evaluate results from subunit model fits to neural data, and should help accelerate psychophysics and neuroscience research with natural stimuli.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Normal Distribution
  • Psychophysics
  • Retina / physiology
  • Vision Disparity / physiology
  • Vision, Binocular / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*