Value-complexity tradeoff explains mouse navigational learning

Nadav Amir, Reut Suliman, Maayan Tal, Sagiv Shifman, Naftali Tishby, Israel Nelken*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We introduce a novel methodology for describing animal behavior as a tradeoff between value and complexity, using the Morris Water Maze navigation task as a concrete example. We develop a dynamical system model of the Water Maze navigation task, solve its optimal control under varying complexity constraints, and analyze the learning process in terms of the value and complexity of swimming trajectories. The value of a trajectory is related to its energetic cost and is correlated with swimming time. Complexity is a novel learning metric which measures how unlikely is a trajectory to be generated by a naive animal. Our model is analytically tractable, provides good fit to observed behavior and reveals that the learning process is characterized by early value optimization followed by complexity reduction. Furthermore, complexity sensitively characterizes behavioral differences between mouse strains.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1008497
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 11 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


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