Cardinal mechanisms of perception: Prediction, Valuation, Categorization

Perception is one of the most fundamental functions of our mind as it provides the primary source of information about our surrounding world. Our senses enable us to take up information from the environment, while perception is the process by which this information is interpreted, a “making sense of the senses”. The purpose of this CRC is to understand perception across a wide range of domains in terms of three underlying principles: Prediction, Valuation and Categorization. These cardinal mechanisms create and maintain sophisticated internal models of the world. The brain is the organ that continuously optimizes these internal models, enabling us to predict the future state of the environment and the consequences of actions, evaluate the potential risks and benefits of different stimuli and responses, and categorize a complex continuous world into discrete mental concepts and behaviors. Accordingly, our CRC is organized into three research areas:

A. Prediction. We investigate how perceptual predictions actively guide our sensors to acquire information optimally. We seek to understand how predictions allow us to discount the sensory consequences of our own actions and how they enable robust and efficient information uptake. B. Valuation. We investigate how valuation processes weigh different sensory signals and action outcomes to maximize information gain and reward. We seek to understand how valuation both optimizes the immediate behavioral consequences of an action and continuously corrects internal models. C. Categorization. We investigate how categories are inferred from regularities in the environment, across different domains, from color to emotions. We seek to understand how categories emerge, and the advantages they confer for perception by emphasizing relevant information.

To obtain a comprehensive understanding of prediction, valuation and categorization, we deploy a unique combination of human behavioral experiments, physiology and modeling. Our goal is to delineate the cardinal mechanisms behaviorally, to identify their underlying neural substrates and to explain their functions with computational models. In the long run, we seek to extend our investigation of the development of the cardinal mechanisms throughout the entire life span, and to uncover the functional role of their impairment in neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) – project number 222641018 – SFB/TRR 135