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Behavioural robustness and the distributed mechanisms hypothesis

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:44 authored by Jose A Fernandez Leon
A current challenge in neuroscience and systems biology is to better understand properties that allow organisms to exhibit and sustain appropriate behaviours despite the effects of perturbations (behavioural robustness). There are still significant theoretical difficulties in this endeavour, mainly due to the context-dependent nature of the problem. Biological robustness, in general, is considered in the literature as a property that emerges from the internal structure of organisms, rather than being a dynamical phenomenon involving agent-internal controls, the organism body, and the environment. Our hypothesis is that the capacity for behavioural robustness is rooted in dynamical processes that are distributed between agent ‘brain’, body, and environment, rather than warranted exclusively by organisms’ internal mechanisms. Distribution is operationally defined here based on perturbation analyses. Evolutionary Robotics (ER) techniques are used here to construct four computational models to study behavioural robustness from a systemic perspective. Dynamical systems theory provides the conceptual framework for these investigations. The first model evolves situated agents in a goalseeking scenario in the presence of neural noise perturbations. Results suggest that evolution implicitly selects neural systems that are noise-resistant during coupling behaviour by concentrating search in regions of the fitness landscape that retain functionality for goal approaching. The second model evolves situated, dynamically limited agents exhibiting minimalcognitive behaviour (categorization task). Results indicate a small but significant tendency toward better performance under most types of perturbations by agents showing further cognitivebehavioural dependency on their environments. The third model evolves experience-dependent robust behaviour in embodied, one-legged walking agents. Evidence suggests that robustness is rooted in both internal and external dynamics, but robust motion emerges always from the systemin-coupling. The fourth model implements a historically dependent, mobile-object tracking task under sensorimotor perturbations. Results indicate two different modes of distribution, one in which inner controls necessarily depend on a set of specific environmental factors to exhibit behaviour, then these controls will be more vulnerable to perturbations on that set, and another for which these factors are equally sufficient for behaviours. Vulnerability to perturbations depends on the particular distribution. In contrast to most existing approaches to the study of robustness, this thesis argues that behavioural robustness is better understood in the context of agent-environment dynamical couplings, not in terms of internal mechanisms. Such couplings, however, are not always the full determinants of robustness. Challenges and limitations of our approach are also identified for future studies.


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