The super-learning hypothesis: integrating learning processes across cortex, cerebellum and basal ganglia

Daniele Caligiore, Rowland Miall, Michael Arbib, Gianluca Baldassarre

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
357 Downloads (Pure)


Despite wide evidence suggesting anatomical and functional interactions between cortex, cerebellum and basal ganglia, the learning processes operating within them --often viewed as respectively unsupervised, supervised and reinforcement learning-- are studied in isolation, neglecting their strong interdependence. We discuss how those brain areas form a highly integrated system combining different learning mechanisms into an effective super-learning process supporting the acquisition of flexible motor behaviour. The term “super-learning” does not indicate a new learning paradigm. Rather, it refers to the fact that different learning mechanisms act in synergy as they: (a) affect neural structures often relying on the widespread action of neuromodulators; (b) act within various stages of cortical/subcortical pathways that are organised in pipeline to support multiple sensation-to-action mappings operating at different levels of abstraction; (c) interact through the reciprocal influence of the output compartments of different brain structures, most notably in the cerebello-cortical and basal ganglia-cortical loops. Here we articulate this new hypothesis and discuss empirical evidence supporting it by specifically referring to motor adaptation and sequence learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-34
Number of pages16
JournalNeuroscience and biobehavioral reviews
Early online date18 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019


  • Acetylcholine
  • Basal ganglia
  • Cerebellum
  • Cortex
  • Cortical-subcortical hierarchies
  • Dopamine
  • Interplay between learning mechanisms
  • Neuromodulation
  • Noradrenaline
  • Reinforcement learning
  • Serotonin
  • Super-learning
  • Supervised learning
  • System-level neuroscience
  • Unsupervised learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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