Wandering bumps in a stochastic neural field: A variational approach

James N. MacLaurin, Paul C. Bressloff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


We develop a generalized variational method for analyzing wandering bumps in a stochastic neural field model defined on some domain U. For concreteness, we take U=S1 and consider a stochastic ring model. First, we decompose the stochastic neural field into a phase-shifted deterministic bump solution and a small error term, which is assumed to be valid up to some exponentially large stopping time. An exact, implicit stochastic differential equation (SDE) for the phase of the bump is derived by minimizing the error term with respect to a weighted L2(U,ρ) norm. The positive weight ρ is chosen so that the error term consists of fast transverse fluctuations of the bump profile. We then carry out a perturbation series expansion of the exact variational phase equation in powers of the noise strength ϵ to obtain an explicit nonlinear SDE for the phase that decouples from the error term. Solving the corresponding steady-state Fokker–Planck equation up to O(ϵ), we determine a leading-order expression for the long-time distribution of the position of the bump. Finally, we use the variational formulation to obtain rigorous exponential bounds on the error term, demonstrating that with very high probability the system stays in a small neighborhood of the bump for times of order exp(Cϵ−1).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number132403
JournalPhysica D: Nonlinear Phenomena
StatePublished - May 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Applied Mathematics


  • Neural variability
  • Spatially extended noise
  • Stationary bumps
  • Stochastic differential equations
  • Stochastic neural fields
  • Variational principle


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