Distributed Action Selection by a Brainstem Neural Substrate: An Embodied Evaluation

  • Mark Humphries
  • Tony Prescott
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 4095)


Theoretical approaches to the problem of action selection in autonomous agents often contrast centralised and distributed selection schemes. Here we describe a neural substrate for distributed action selection in the vertebrate brain-stem, the medial reticular formation (mRF), which may form a evolutionary precursor to centralised schemes found in the higher brain. We evaluate its competence as a selection device for robot control in a simulated resource co-ordination task, and use a genetic algorithm to evolve the mRF’s inputs and internal structure. Some configurations of the mRF could sufficiently co-ordinate actions to maximise the robot’s energy, but this is critically dependent on a high rate of energy acquisition, which leaves an animal (or agent) susceptible to food shortages. Thus, the inflexibility of the mRF as a distributed selection mechanism may have provided impetus for the evolution of more complex, centralised, selection mechanisms in the brain.


Projection Neuron Action Selection Anatomical Model Empirical Cumulative Distribution Function White Tile 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Redgrave, P., Prescott, T.J., Gurney, K.: The basal ganglia: A vertebrate solution to the selection problem? Neuroscience 89, 1009–1023 (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Prescott, T.J., Redgrave, P., Gurney, K.: Layered control architectures in robots and vertebrates. Adapt. Behav. 7, 99–127 (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Berntson, G.G., Micco, D.J.: Organization of brainstem behavioral systems. Brain Res. Bull. 1, 471–483 (1976)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Grill, H.J., Kaplan, J.M.: The neuroanatomical axis for control of energy balance. Front. Neuroendocrin. 23, 2–40 (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Humphries, M.D., Gurney, K., Prescott, T.J.: Is there an integrative center in the vertebrate brainstem? A robotic evaluation of a model of the reticular formation viewed as an action selection device. Adapt. Behav. 13, 97–113 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Humphries, M., Gurney, K., Prescott, T.: Action selection in a macroscopic model of the brainstem reticular formation. In: Bryson, J.J., Prescott, T.J., Seth, A.K. (eds.) Modelling Natural Action Selection, pp. 61–68. AISB Press, Brighton (2005)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Humphries, M.D., Gurney, K., Prescott, T.J.: Is there a brainstem substrate for action selection? Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. B. (in press, 2006)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Kilmer, W.L., McCulloch, W.S., Blum, J.: A model of the vertebrate central command system. Int. J. Man-Mach. Stud. 1, 279–309 (1969)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Humphries, M.D., Gurney, K., Prescott, T.J.: The brainstem reticular formation is a small-world, not scale-free, network. Proc. Roy. Soc. B. 273, 503–511 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Maes, P.: Modeling adaptive autonomous agents. In: Langton, C.G. (ed.) Artificial Life, An Overview, pp. 135–162. MIT Press, Cambridge (1995)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Girard, B., Cuzin, V., Guillot, A., Gurney, K.N., Prescott, T.J.: A basal ganglia inspired model of action selection evaluated in a robotic survival task. J. Integr. Neurosci. 2, 179–200 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Deliagina, T.G., Zelenin, P.V., Orlovsky, G.N.: Encoding and decoding of reticulospinal commands. Brain Res. Brain Res. Rev. 40, 166–177 (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Noga, B.R., Kriellaars, D.J., Brownstone, R.M., Jordan, L.M.: Mechanism for activation of locomotor centers in the spinal cord by stimulation of the mesencephalic locomotor region. J. Neurophysiol. (2003)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Jung, R., Kiemel, T., Cohen, A.H.: Dynamic behavior of a neural network model of locomotor control in the lamprey. J. Neurophysiol. 75, 1074–1086 (1996)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Humphries
    • 1
  • Tony Prescott
    • 1
  1. 1.Adaptive Behaviour Research Group, Department of PsychologyUniversity of SheffieldUK

Personalised recommendations