Learning to represent a multi-context environment: More than detecting changes

Ting Qian, T. Florian Jaeger, Richard N. Aslin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Learning an accurate representation of the environment is a difficult task for both animals and humans, because the causal structures of the environment are unobservable and must be inferred from the observable input. In this article, we argue that this difficulty is further increased by the multi-context nature of realistic learning environments.When the environ- ment undergoes a change in context without explicit cueing, the learner must detect the change and employ a new causal model to predict upcoming observations correctly. We discuss the problems and strategies that a rational learner might adopt and existing findings that support such strategies. We advocate hierarchical models as an optimal structure for retaining causal models learned in past contexts, thereby avoiding relearning familiar contexts in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 228
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberJUL
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • Change detection
  • Contextual ambiguity
  • Contextual cue
  • Multi-context environment
  • Representation learning


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