We present a mathematical analysis of the effects of Hebbian learning in random recurrent neural networks, with a generic Hebbian learning rule, including passive forgetting and different timescales, for neuronal activity and learning dynamics. Previous numerical work has reported that Hebbian learning drives the system from chaos to a steady state through a sequence of bifurcations. Here, we interpret these results mathematically and show that these effects, involving a complex coupling between neuronal dynamics and synaptic graph structure, can be analyzed using Jacobian matrices, which introduce both a structural and a dynamical point of view on neural network evolution. Furthermore, we show that sensitivity to a learned pattern is maximal when the largest Lyapunov exponent is close to 0. We discuss how neural networks may take advantage of this regime of high functional interest.

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