Effects of Stress and Genotype on Meta-parameter Dynamics in Reinforcement Learning

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3 Author(s)

Stress and genetic background regulate different aspects of behavioral learning through the action of stress hormones and neuromodulators. In reinforcement learning (RL) models, meta-parameters such as learning rate, future reward discount factor, and exploitation-exploration factor, control learning dynamics and performance. They are hypothesized to be related to neuromodulatory levels in the brain. We found that many aspects of animal learning and performance can be described by simple RL models using dynamic control of the meta-parameters. To study the effects of stress and genotype, we carried out 5-hole-box light conditioning and Morris water maze experiments with C57BL/6 and DBA/2 mouse strains. The animals were exposed to different kinds of stress to evaluate its effects on immediate performance as well as on long-term memory. Then, we used RL models to simulate their behavior. For each experimental session, we estimated a set of model meta-parameters that produced the best fit between the model and the animal performance. The dynamics of several estimated meta-parameters were qualitatively similar for the two simulated experiments, and with statistically significant differences between different genetic strains and stress conditions.