Power-law Efficient Neural Codes Provide General Link Between Perceptual Bias And Discriminability

Michael Morais Princeton University
Jonathan W Pillow Princeton University


Recent work in theoretical neuroscience has shown that information-theoretic "efficient" neural codes, which allocate neural resources to maximize the mutual information between stimuli and neural responses, give rise to a lawful relationship between perceptual bias and discriminability that is observed across a wide variety of psychophysical tasks in human observers (Wei & Stocker 2017). Here we generalize these results to show that the same law arises under a much larger family of optimal neural codes, introducing a unifying framework that we call power-law efficient coding. Specifically, we show that the same lawful relationship between bias and discriminability arises whenever Fisher information is allocated proportional to any power of the prior distribution. This family includes neural codes that are optimal for minimizing Lp error for any p, indicating that the lawful relationship observed in human psychophysical data does not require information-theoretically optimal neural codes. Furthermore, we derive the exact constant of proportionality governing the relationship between bias and discriminability for different power laws (which includes information-theoretically optimal codes, where the power is 2, and so-called discrimax codes, where power is 1/2), and different choices of optimal decoder. As a bonus, our framework provides new insights into "anti-Bayesian" perceptual biases, in which percepts are biased away from the center of mass of the prior. We derive an explicit formula that clarifies precisely which combinations of neural encoder and decoder can give rise to such biases.

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