Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How We Know A Dog Is A Dog: Concept Acquisition In The Human Brain

Date:
September 23, 2009
Source:
Cell Press
Summary:
A new study explores how our brains synthesize concepts that allow us to organize and comprehend the world. The research uses behavioral and neuroimaging techniques to track how conceptual knowledge emerges in the human brain and guides decision making.

Although two dogs can look very different, the human brain recognizes them as particular instances of the concept of a dog.
Credit: iStockphoto/Annette Wiechmann

A new study explores how our brains synthesize concepts that allow us to organize and comprehend the world. The research, published by Cell Press in the September 24th issue of the journal Neuron, uses behavioral and neuroimaging techniques to track how conceptual knowledge emerges in the human brain and guides decision making.

Related Articles


The ability to use prior knowledge when dealing with new situations is a defining characteristic of human intelligence. This is made possible through the use of concepts, which are formed by abstracting away the common essence from multiple distinct but related entities. "Although a Poodle and a Golden Retriever look very different from each other, we can easily appreciate their similar attributes because they can be recognized as instances of a particular concept, in this case a dog," explains lead study author, Dr. Dharshan Kumaran from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London.

While there is little doubt that humans form and use concepts all the time, not much is known about how conceptual knowledge is created in the brain or how it guides us to make efficient choices. It has long been suggested that the hippocampus, a brain structure critical for memory formation, plays a critical role in the acquisition of conceptual knowledge. However, thus far, there has been little concrete evidence to support this claim. Dr. Kumaran and colleagues designed an experimental paradigm that would allow them to track the emergence and application of conceptual knowledge.

Participants played a game in which they had the opportunity to win money by correctly predicting whether it would be sunny or rainy based on the appearance of the night sky, denoted by patterns on a computer screen. Early on in the experiment, participants simply memorized the outcome associated with each pattern in isolation. However, they quickly noticed that groups of patterns were conceptually related, much in the same way as Poodles and Golden Retrievers. By structuring the problem in this fashion, participants were able to solve the task, and even successfully apply their knowledge to a different setting where the concepts were similar but the patterns themselves new.

By using parallel behavioral and neural measures, the researchers found that a functionally coupled circuit involving the hippocampus and ventromedial prefrontal cortex underpinned the emergence of conceptual knowledge. Interestingly, however, it was the hippocampus alone that predicted which participants would be able to successfully apply the concepts they had learned to a visually novel setting. "What this suggests is that perhaps the hippocampus creates and stores these concepts, and passes this information to the prefrontal cortex where it can be put to use, for example in making choices where financial reward is at stake," explains Dr. Kumaran.

Taken together, the results highlight the role of the hippocampus in acquiring new concepts, perhaps though its unique networking capacities which allow multiple memories to be related to one another. "Our study offers neurobiological insights into the remarkable capacity of humans to discover the conceptual structure of their visual experiences, and reveals how so-called "memory" regions like the hippocampus team up with "decision modules" in the prefrontal lobe to put this information to use," concludes Dr. Kumaran.

The researchers include Dharshan Kumaran, University College London, London, UK; University College London, London, UK, Stanford University, Stanford, CA; Jennifer J. Summerfield, University College London, London, UK; Demis Hassabis, University College London, London, UK; and Eleanor A. Maguire, University College London, London, UK.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Dharshan Kumaran, Jennifer J. Summerfield, Demis Hassabis, Eleanor A. Maguire. Tracking the Emergence of Conceptual Knowledge during Human Decision Making. Neuron, 2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.07.030

Cite This Page:

Cell Press. "How We Know A Dog Is A Dog: Concept Acquisition In The Human Brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 September 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090923121443.htm>.
Cell Press. (2009, September 23). How We Know A Dog Is A Dog: Concept Acquisition In The Human Brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090923121443.htm
Cell Press. "How We Know A Dog Is A Dog: Concept Acquisition In The Human Brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090923121443.htm (accessed April 18, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Our Love Of Puppy Dog Eyes Explained By Science

Our Love Of Puppy Dog Eyes Explained By Science

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2015) Researchers found a spike in oxytocin occurs in both humans and dogs when they gaze into each other&apos;s eyes. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Find Link Between Gestational Diabetes And Autism

Scientists Find Link Between Gestational Diabetes And Autism

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2015) Researchers who analyzed data from over 300,000 kids and their mothers say they&apos;ve found a link between gestational diabetes and autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Video Messages Help Reassure Dementia Patients

Video Messages Help Reassure Dementia Patients

AP (Apr. 17, 2015) Family members are prerecording messages as part of a unique pilot program at the Hebrew Home in New York. The videos are trying to help victims of Alzheimer&apos;s disease and other forms of dementia break through the morning fog of forgetfulness. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Common Pain Reliever Might Dull Your Emotions

Common Pain Reliever Might Dull Your Emotions

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2015) Each week, millions of Americans take acetaminophen to dull minor aches and pains. Now researchers say it might blunt life&apos;s highs and lows, too. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins