Doing without schema hierarchies: a recurrent connectionist approach to normal and impaired routine sequential action.
In everyday tasks, selecting actions in the proper sequence requires a continuously updated representation of temporal context. Previous models have addressed this problem by positing a hierarchy of processing units, mirroring the roughly hierarchical structure of naturalistic tasks themselves. The present study considers an alternative framework, in which the representation of context depends on recurrent connections within a network mapping from environmental inputs to actions. The ability of this approach to account for human performance was evaluated by applying it, through simulation, to a specific everyday task. The resulting model learned to deal flexibly with a complex set of sequencing constraints, encoding contextual information at multiple time scales within a single, distributed internal representation. Degrading this representation led to errors resembling those observed both in everyday behavior and in apraxia. Analysis of the model's function yielded numerous predictions relevant to both normal and apraxic performance.