In experiments on perceptual decision making, individuals learn a categorization task through trial-and-error protocols. We explore the capacity of a decision-making attractor network to learn a categorization task through reward-based, Hebbian-type modifications of the weights incoming from the stimulus encoding layer. For the latter, we assume a standard layer of a large number of stimulus-specific neurons. Within the general framework of Hebbian learning, we have hypothesized that the learning rate is modulated by the reward at each trial. Surprisingly, we find that when the coding layer has been optimized in view of the categorization task, such reward-modulated Hebbian learning (RMHL) fails to extract efficiently the category membership. In previous work, we showed that the attractor neural networks' nonlinear dynamics accounts for behavioral confidence in sequences of decision trials. Taking advantage of these findings, we propose that learning is controlled by confidence, as computed from the neural activity of the decision-making attractor network. Here we show that this confidence-controlled, reward-based Hebbian learning efficiently extracts categorical information from the optimized coding layer. The proposed learning rule is local and, in contrast to RMHL, does not require storing the average rewards obtained on previous trials. In addition, we find that the confidence-controlled learning rule achieves near-optimal performance. In accordance with this result, we show that the learning rule approximates a gradient descent method on a maximizing reward cost function.

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