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Occam’s Razor in sensorimotor learning




A large number of recent studies suggest that the sensorimotor system uses probabilistic models to predict its environment and makes inferences about unobserved variables in line with Bayesian statistics. One of the important features of Bayesian statistics is Occam's Razor—an inbuilt preference for simpler models when comparing competing models that explain some observed data equally well. Here, we test directly for Occam's Razor in sensorimotor control. We designed a sensorimotor task in which participants had to draw lines through clouds of noisy samples of an unobserved curve generated by one of two possible probabilistic models—a simple model with a large length scale, leading to smooth curves, and a complex model with a short length scale, leading to more wiggly curves. In training trials, participants were informed about the model that generated the stimulus so that they could learn the statistics of each model. In probe trials, participants were then exposed to ambiguous stimuli. In probe trials where the ambiguous stimulus could be fitted equally well by both models, we found that participants showed a clear preference for the simpler model. Moreover, we found that participants’ choice behaviour was quantitatively consistent with Bayesian Occam's Razor. We also show that participants’ drawn trajectories were similar to samples from the Bayesian predictive distribution over trajectories and significantly different from two non-probabilistic heuristics. In two control experiments, we show that the preference of the simpler model cannot be simply explained by a difference in physical effort or by a preference for curve smoothness. Our results suggest that Occam's Razor is a general behavioural principle already present during sensorimotor processing.

Author(s): Genewein, T and Braun, D
Journal: Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B
Volume: 281
Number (issue): 1783
Pages: 1-7
Year: 2014
Month: May

Department(s): Empirical Inference
Bibtex Type: Article (article)

DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2952


  title = {Occam's Razor in sensorimotor learning},
  author = {Genewein, T and Braun, D},
  journal = {Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B},
  volume = {281},
  number = {1783},
  pages = {1-7},
  month = may,
  year = {2014},
  month_numeric = {5}