DOI: 10.1101/499418Dec 17, 2018Paper

Discovery of Hierarchical Representations for Efficient Planning

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Momchil TomovSamuel Gershman


We propose that humans spontaneously organize environments into clusters of states that support hierarchical planning, enabling them to tackle challenging problems by breaking them down into sub-problems at various levels of abstraction. People constantly rely on such hierarchical presentations to accomplish tasks big and small – from planning one’s day, to organizing a wedding, to getting a PhD – often succeeding on the very first attempt. We formalize a Bayesian model of hierarchy discovery that explains how humans discover such useful abstractions. Building on principles developed in structure learning and robotics, the model predicts that hierarchy discovery should be sensitive to the topological structure, reward distribution, and distribution of tasks in the environment. In five simulations, we show that the model accounts for previously reported effects of environment structure on planning behavior, such as detection of bottleneck states and transitions. We then test the novel predictions of the model in eight behavioral experiments, demonstrating how the distribution of tasks and rewards can influence planning behavior via the discovered hierarchy, sometimes facilitating and sometimes hindering performance. We find evid...Continue Reading

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