Surprise response as a probe for compressed memory states

Hadar Levi-Aharoni, Oren Shriki, Naftali Tishby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The limited capacity of recent memory inevitably leads to partial memory of past stimuli. There is also evidence that behavioral and neural responses to novel or rare stimuli are dependent on one's memory of past stimuli. Thus, these responses may serve as a probe of different individuals' remembering and forgetting characteristics. Here, we utilize two lossy compression models of stimulus sequences that inherently involve forgetting, which in addition to being a necessity under many conditions, also has theoretical and behavioral advantages. One model is based on a simple stimulus counter and the other on the Information Bottleneck (IB) framework which suggests a more general, theoretically justifiable principle for biological and cognitive phenomena. These models are applied to analyze a novelty-detection event-related potential commonly known as the P300. The trial-by-trial variations of the P300 response, recorded in an auditory oddball paradigm, were subjected to each model to extract two stimulus-compression parameters for each subject: memory length and representation accuracy. These parameters were then utilized to estimate the subjects' recent memory capacity limit under the task conditions. The results, along with recently published findings on single neurons and the IB model, underscore how a lossy compression framework can be utilized to account for trial-by-trial variability of neural responses at different spatial scales and in different individuals, while at the same time providing estimates of individual memory characteristics at different levels of representation using a theoretically-based parsimonious model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e1007065
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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