Efficient coding provides a direct link between prior and likelihood in perceptual Bayesian inference

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 25 (NIPS 2012)

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Xue-xin Wei, Alan A. Stocker


A common challenge for Bayesian models of perception is the fact that the two fundamental Bayesian components, the prior distribution and the likelihood func- tion, are formally unconstrained. Here we argue that a neural system that emulates Bayesian inference is naturally constrained by the way it represents sensory infor- mation in populations of neurons. More specifically, we show that an efficient coding principle creates a direct link between prior and likelihood based on the underlying stimulus distribution. The resulting Bayesian estimates can show bi- ases away from the peaks of the prior distribution, a behavior seemingly at odds with the traditional view of Bayesian estimation, yet one that has been reported in human perception. We demonstrate that our framework correctly accounts for the repulsive biases previously reported for the perception of visual orientation, and show that the predicted tuning characteristics of the model neurons match the reported orientation tuning properties of neurons in primary visual cortex. Our results suggest that efficient coding is a promising hypothesis in constrain- ing Bayesian models of perceptual inference.