Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Animate, inanimate, and social: How the brain categorizes information

Date:
January 27, 2014
Source:
Sissa Medialab
Summary:
For our brain, animate and inanimate objects belong to different categories and any information about them is stored and processed by different networks. A study shows that there is also another category that is functionally distinct from the others, namely, the category of “social” groups.

Crowd at a concert.
Credit: Thomas Hawk

For our brain, animate and inanimate objects belong to different categories and any information about them is stored and processed by different networks. A study by Raffaella Rumiati from SISSA, Andrea Carnaghi from the University of Trieste, and others shows that there is also another category that is functionally distinct from the others, namely, the category of "social" groups. The study has just been published in the scientific journal Cognitive Neuroscience.

It was research in the field of neuropsychology that revealed a functional distinction between some "macro-categories." "In neuropsychology we look for 'double dissociation," explains Rumiati. "For example, we might observe some patients who have a cognitive impairment in recognising animate objects but have preserved the ability to recognise inanimate objects. However, to be able to say that the two functions are separate, we also need to find patients who exhibit the reverse problem, that is, who have trouble recognising inanimate objects but still have good cognitive capabilities as regards animate objects."

Rumiati and co-workers applied this method to the recognition of social groups. "The concept of "social" category is crucially important for humans in evolutionary terms, and for this reason it's reasonable to think that specific, ad hoc circuits exist in the brain that ensure efficiency and speed in recognition." Rumiati and Carnaghi selected a number of patients with dementia and subjected them to tests assessing the selectivity of their impairments. "We were looking for patients with trouble recognising inanimate objects only, or animate objects only, or social groups only, so as to demonstrate the double dissociation of these functions." As a first step, Rumiati and Carnaghi checked the reliability of the literature findings on the double dissociation between animate and inanimate categories. "Classic studies tended to use pictures as cues, whereas we used words. The fact that we replicated previous findings demonstrates the soundness of the theoretical framework."

The main result, however, was to find a double dissociation between social groups and both animate and inanimate objects. "This means that social groups form a 'special' category in our brain," explains Rumiati. "We are equipped with cognitive mechanisms devoted to this type of cue because the ability to recognise, for example, the "mafia man," the "criminal" or the 'policeman' can save our lives."

"This study," explains Carnaghi, "has an important implication. It shows that it makes sense to apply the quantitative methods used in neuroscience even to the social sciences, and in particular to studies investigating how stereotypes and prejudices are formed. Thanks to this study we now know that a stereotype relating to people is processed by the brain in a different manner from a stereotype concerning an inanimate object or an animal."


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Raffaella I. Rumiati, Andrea Carnaghi, Erika Improta, Ana Laura Diez, Maria Caterina Silveri. Social groups have a representation of their own: Clues from neuropsychology. Cognitive Neuroscience, 2014; 1 DOI: 10.1080/17588928.2013.876981

Cite This Page:

Sissa Medialab. "Animate, inanimate, and social: How the brain categorizes information." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140127092940.htm>.
Sissa Medialab. (2014, January 27). Animate, inanimate, and social: How the brain categorizes information. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140127092940.htm
Sissa Medialab. "Animate, inanimate, and social: How the brain categorizes information." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140127092940.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Pregnancy Spacing Could Have Big Impact On Autism Risks

Pregnancy Spacing Could Have Big Impact On Autism Risks

Newsy (Oct. 1, 2014) A new study says children born less than one year and more than five years after a sibling can have an increased risk for autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stopping School Violence

Stopping School Violence

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) A trauma doctor steps out of the hospital and into the classroom to teach kids how to calmly solve conflicts, avoiding a trip to the ER. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pineal Cysts: Debilitating Pain

Pineal Cysts: Debilitating Pain

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) A tiny cyst in the brain that can cause debilitating symptoms like chronic headaches and insomnia, and the doctor who performs the delicate surgery to remove them. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Burning Away Brain Tumors

Burning Away Brain Tumors

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) Doctors are 'cooking' brain tumors. Hear how this new laser-heat procedure cuts down on recovery time. Video provided by Ivanhoe
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