Letters to Nature

Nature 425, 620-624 (9 October 2003) | doi:10.1038/nature02024; Received 3 March 2003; Accepted 7 August 2003

Environmentally mediated synergy between perception and behaviour in mobile robots

Paul F. M. J. Verschure1, Thomas Voegtlin1,2 & Rodney J. Douglas1

  1. Institute of Neuroinformatics, University/Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zürich, CH-8057 Zürich, Switzerland
  2. Present address: Institute for Theoretical Biology, Humboldt-University Berlin, D-10115 Berlin, Germany

Correspondence to: Paul F. M. J. Verschure1 Email: pfmjv@ini.phys.ethz.ch

The notion that behaviour influences perception seems self-evident, but the mechanism of their interaction is not known. Perception and behaviour are usually considered to be separate processes. In this view, perceptual learning constructs compact representations of sensory events, reflecting their statistical properties1, 2, independently of behavioural relevance3, 4. Behavioural learning5, 6, however, forms associations between perception and action, organized by reinforcement7, 8, without regard for the construction of perception. It is generally assumed that the interaction between these two processes is internal to the agent, and can be explained solely in terms of the neuronal substrate9. Here we show, instead, that perception and behaviour can interact synergistically via the environment. Using simulated and real mobile robots, we demonstrate that perceptual learning directly supports behavioural learning and so promotes a progressive structuring of behaviour. This structuring leads to a systematic bias in input sampling, which directly affects the organization of the perceptual system. This external, environmentally mediated feedback matches the perceptual system to the emerging behavioural structure, so that the behaviour is stabilized.