Emily Mackevicius

Circuit priors for learning ethologically relevant bird behavior

Behaviors emerge via a combination of experience and innate predispositions. I will present a framework for understanding how pre-existing neural circuit priors form a substrate on which the brain can learn new information. I will apply this framework to neural data I collected from the brains of birds performing ethologically relevant learning and memory behaviors. Specifically, Zebra Finches learning to sing a new song, and Black-Capped Chickadees remembering where they have hidden food caches. In both cases, in very different domains, neural circuits appear to generate an abstract state-space representation of the task, upon which new memories can be learned. This suggests mechanisms through which the brain may reason about the world in a Bayesian way, combining structured pre-existing information with new observations and experiences.