Surprise in the brain: Theory and Experiments


Alireza Modirshanechi  | École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland
Franziska Brändle| Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Germany


Surprise and other signals related to surprise, such as novelty and prediction error, are believed to have important roles in the brain: They affect physiological indicators such as pupil diameter and EEG amplitude, trigger the release of neuromodulators such as norepinephrine, and influence behavior through the shift of attention, memory segmentation, and modulation of learning speed. How and why these signals are involved in all these different phenomena have been subjects of a long-lasting debate in neuroscience and psychology. A systematic challenge in addressing the functional role of surprise-related signals is that different studies often refer to different quantities by “surprise” or use it interchangeably with “novelty”, “prediction error”, and “information gain”. In this workshop, we gather experimental and computational researchers from different sub-fields of neuroscience to discuss and review different concepts of surprise and their influence on physiological and behavioral measurements. Our goal is to take a step towards a consensus on the definitions of different surprise-related quantities and their functional roles in the brain.

Schedule (CEST)

Tuesday, Sept 13


Sean O’Toole | Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, Switzerland
Prediction error neurons in mouse cortex are molecularly targetable cell types


Maria Eckstein | Google DeepMind, UK
Tracking the creation of hierarchical rules using pupillometry


Discussion I


Irene Cogliati Dezza | University College London, UK
Knowledge is power, but how do people decide what to know?


Franziska Brändle | Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Germany
Exploration beyond bandits


Discussion II


30 min break


Ilya Monosov | Washington University, USA
The neurobiology of uncertainty reduction


Alireza Modirshanechi | École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland
Theories of surprise: definitions and predictions


Discussion III