Cognitive Computation

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 296–306 | Cite as

A Brain-Inspired Decision Making Model Based on Top-Down Biasing of Prefrontal Cortex to Basal Ganglia and Its Application in Autonomous UAV Explorations

  • Feifei Zhao
  • Yi ZengEmail author
  • Guixiang Wang
  • Jun Bai
  • Bo Xu


Decision making is a fundamental ability for intelligent agents (e.g., humanoid robots and unmanned aerial vehicles). During decision making process, agents can improve the strategy for interacting with the dynamic environment through reinforcement learning. Many state-of-the-art reinforcement learning models deal with relatively smaller number of state-action pairs, and the states are preferably discrete, such as Q-learning and Actor-Critic algorithms. While in practice, in many scenario, the states are continuous and hard to be properly discretized. Better autonomous decision making methods need to be proposed to handle these problems. Inspired by the mechanism of decision making in human brain, we propose a general computational model, named as prefrontal cortex-basal ganglia (PFC-BG) algorithm. The proposed model is inspired by the biological reinforcement learning pathway and mechanisms from the following perspectives: (1) Dopamine signals continuously update reward-relevant information for both basal ganglia and working memory in prefrontal cortex. (2) We maintain the contextual reward information in working memory. This has a top-down biasing effect on reinforcement learning in basal ganglia. The proposed model separates the continuous states into smaller distinguishable states, and introduces continuous reward function for each state to obtain reward information at different time. To verify the performance of our model, we apply it to many UAV decision making experiments, such as avoiding obstacles and flying through window and door, and the experiments support the effectiveness of the model. Compared with traditional Q-learning and Actor-Critic algorithms, the proposed model is more biologically inspired, and more accurate and faster to make decision.


Prefrontal cortex Working memory Basal ganglia Dopamine system Brain-inspired decision making model 



This study was funded by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB02060007), and Beijing Municipal Commission of Science and Technology (Z161100000216124). We would like to thank all the anonymous reviewers for all the constructive comments, which enables this paper to be with much better shape.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interests

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of AutomationChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence TechnologyChinese Academy of SciencesShanghaiChina
  3. 3.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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