When and where do feed-forward neural networks learn localist representations?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


According to parallel distributed processing (PDP) theory in psychology, neural networks (NN) learn distributed rather than interpretable localist representations. This view has been held so strongly that few researchers have analysed single units to determine if this assumption is correct. However, recent results from psychology, neuroscience and computer science have shown the occasional existence of local codes emerging in artificial and biological neural networks. In this paper, we undertake the first systematic survey of when local codes emerge in a feed-forward neural network, using generated input and output data with known qualities. We find that the number of local codes that emerge from a NN follows a well-defined distribution across the number of hidden layer neurons, with a peak determined by the size of input data, number of examples presented and the sparsity of input data. Using a 1-hot output code drastically decreases the number of local codes on the hidden layer. The number of emergent local codes increases with the percentage of dropout applied to the hidden layer, suggesting that the localist encoding may offer a resilience to noisy networks. This data suggests that localist coding can emerge from feed-forward PDP networks and suggests some of the conditions that may lead to interpretable localist representations in the cortex. The findings highlight how local codes should not be dismissed out of hand.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2018

Structured keywords

  • Language
  • Cognitive Science


  • cs.NE
  • cs.AI
  • cs.ET
  • cs.LG
  • 92b20
  • M and M

    Bowers, J. S.


    Project: Research, Parent

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