Differentiation and Integration of Competing Memories: A Neural Network Model

Victoria J.H. Ritvo, Alex Nguyen, Nicholas B. Turk-Browne, Kenneth A. Norman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What determines when neural representations of memories move together (integrate) or apart (differentiate)? Classic supervised learning models posit that, when two stimuli predict similar outcomes, their representations should integrate. However, these models have recently been challenged by studies showing that pairing two stimuli with a shared associate can sometimes cause differentiation, depending on the parameters of the study and the brain region being examined. Here, we provide a purely unsupervised neural network model that can explain these and other related findings. The model can exhibit integration or differentiation depending on the amount of activity allowed to spread to competitors — inactive memories are not modified, connections to moderately active competitors are weakened (leading to differentiation), and connections to highly active competitors are strengthened (leading to integration). The model also makes several novel predictions — most importantly, that differentiation will be rapid and asymmetric. Overall, these modeling results provide a computational explanation for a diverse set of seemingly contradictory empirical findings in the memory literature, as well as new insights into the dynamics at play during learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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