Rethinking statistical learning as a continuous dynamic stochastic process, from the motor systems perspective

Anna Vaskevich, Elizabeth B. Torres*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The brain integrates streams of sensory input and builds accurate predictions, while arriving at stable percepts under disparate time scales. This stochastic process bears different unfolding dynamics for different people, yet statistical learning (SL) currently averages out, as noise, individual fluctuations in data streams registered from the brain as the person learns. We here adopt a new analytical approach that instead of averaging out fluctuations in continuous electroencephalographic (EEG)-based data streams, takes these gross data as the important signals. Our new approach reassesses how individuals dynamically learn predictive information in stable and unstable environments. We find neural correlates for two types of learners in a visuomotor task: narrow-variance learners, who retain explicit knowledge of the regularity embedded in the stimuli. They seem to use an error-correction strategy steadily present in both stable and unstable environments. This strategy can be captured by current optimization-based computational frameworks. In contrast, broad-variance learners emerge only in the unstable environment. Local analyses of the moment-by-moment fluctuations, naïve to the overall outcome, reveal an initial period of memoryless learning, well characterized by a continuous gamma process starting out exponentially distributed whereby all future events are equally probable, with high signal (mean) to noise (variance) ratio. The empirically derived continuous Gamma process smoothly converges to predictive Gaussian signatures comparable to those observed for the error-corrective mode that is captured by current optimization-driven computational models. We coin this initially seemingly purposeless stage exploratory. Globally, we examine a posteriori the fluctuations in distributions’ shapes over the empirically estimated stochastic signatures. We then confirm that the exploratory mode of those learners, free of expectation, random and memoryless, but with high signal, precedes the acquisition of the error-correction mode boasting smooth transition from exponential to symmetric distributions’ shapes. This early naïve phase of the learning process has been overlooked by current models driven by expected, predictive information and error-based learning. Our work demonstrates that (statistical) learning is a highly dynamic and stochastic process, unfolding at different time scales, and evolving distinct learning strategies on demand.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1033776
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
StatePublished - 8 Nov 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • active inference learning
  • dynamic learning
  • error correction
  • exploration
  • reinforcement learning
  • statistical learning
  • stochastic process


Dive into the research topics of 'Rethinking statistical learning as a continuous dynamic stochastic process, from the motor systems perspective'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this