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Pages 268-275
First published 2 September 2013

Environmental Feedback Drives Multiple Behaviors from the Same Neural Circuit

Paul Williams, Randall Beer


The ability of a single neural circuit to produce qualitatively distinct behaviors is typically attributed to some adaptive mechanism in the circuit itself. However, neural circuits are also embedded in particular bodies and environments, and feedback through the sensorimotor loop may also serve to drive behavioral differentiation. Here we explore the ability of a single neural circuit to produce qualitatively different behaviors based on changing patterns of environmental feedback. Agents equipped with two sets of effectors and controlled by fixed neural circuits are evolved to catch circles under three different motor conditions. In one condition, the agent must coordinate both sets of effectors, while in each of the other conditions one set of effectors is lesioned and the agent must rely on the other set alone to accomplish the task. A detailed behavioral analysis of the best evolved agent is reported, providing numerous insights into its evolved behavioral mechanism. The agent is found to produce significantly different motor outputs in each of the three conditions, to rely on continuous environmental feedback for successful behavior, and to switch flexibly between different behavioral conditions.