Learning Higher‐Order Transitional Probabilities in Nonhuman Primates


  • Rey Arnaud
  • Fagot Joël
  • Mathy Fabien
  • Lazartigues Laura
  • Tosatto Laure
  • Bonafos Guillem
  • Freyermuth Jean‐marc
  • Lavigne Frédéric


  • Associative learning
  • Predictive coding
  • Transitional probabilities
  • XOR

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The extraction of cooccurrences between two events, A and B, is a central learning mechanism shared by all species capable of associative learning. Formally, the cooccurrence of events A and B appearing in a sequence is measured by the transitional probability (TP) between these events, and it corresponds to the probability of the second stimulus given the first (i.e., p(B|A)). In the present study, nonhuman primates (Guinea baboons, Papio papio) were exposed to a serial version of the XOR (i.e., exclusive-OR), in which they had to process sequences of three stimuli: A, B, and C. In this manipulation, first-order TPs (i.e., AB and BC) were uninformative due to their transitional probabilities being equal to .5 (i.e., p(B|A) = p(C|B) = .5), while secondorder TPs were fully predictive of the upcoming stimulus (i.e., p(C|AB) = 1). In Experiment 1, we found that baboons were able to learn second-order TPs, while no learning occurred on first-order TPs. In Experiment 2, this pattern of results was replicated, and a final test ruled out an alternative interpretation in terms of proximity to the reward. These results indicate that a non-human primate species can learn a nonlinearly separable problem such as the XOR. They also provide fine-grained empirical data to test models of statistical learning on the interaction between the learning of different orders of TPs. Recent bioinspired models of associative learning are also introduced as promising alternatives to the modeling of statistical learning mechanisms.

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