Much of mental life consists in thinking about object concepts that are not currently within the scope of perception. The general system that enables multiple representations to be maintained and compared is referred to as ‘working memory’ (Repovš and Baddeley, 2006), and involves regions in medial and lateral parietal and frontal cortex (e.g., Smith and Jonides, 1999). It has been assumed that the contents of working memory index information in regions of the brain that are critical for processing and storing object knowledge. To study the processes involved in thinking about common object concepts, we used event related fMRI to study BOLD activity while participants made judgments of conceptual similarity over pairs of sequentially presented auditory words. Through a combination of conventional fMRI analysis approaches and multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA), we show that the brain responses associated with the second word in a pair carry information about the conceptual similarity between the two members of the pair. This was the case in frontal and parietal regions involved in the working memory and decision components of the task for both analysis approaches. However, in other regions of the brain, including early visual regions, MVPA permitted classification of semantic distance relationships where conventional averaging approaches failed to show a difference. These findings suggest that diffuse and statistically sub-threshold ‘scattering’ of BOLD activity in some regions may carry substantial information about the contents of mental representations.
The ventral stream refers to a neural pathway that projects from early visual areas through to anterior temporal cortex, and comprises regions in ventral and lateral occipital-temporal cortex. The ventral stream is critical for recognizing visually presented objects. Functional imaging studies of the human brain have shown that different regions within the ventral stream show differential activation to nonliving (tools, houses) and living stimuli (animals, faces). The causes of these category preferences are widely debated. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we find that the same regions of the ventral stream that show category preferences for nonliving stimuli and animals in sighted adults, show the same category preferences in adults who are blind since birth. Both blind and sighted participants had larger blood oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) responses in the medial fusiform gyrus for nonliving stimuli compared to animal stimuli, and differential BOLD responses in lateral occipital cortex for animal stimuli compared to nonliving stimuli. These findings demonstrate that the medial-to-lateral bias by conceptual domain in the ventral stream does not require visual experience in order to develop, and suggest the operation of innately determined domain-specific constraints on the organization of object knowledge.
Tool use depends on processes represented in distinct regions of left parietal cortex. We studied the role of visual experience in shaping neural specificity for tools in parietal cortex by using functional magnetic resonance imaging with sighted, late-blind, and congenitally blind participants. Using a region-of-interest approach in which tool-specific areas of parietal cortex were identified in sighted participants viewing pictures, we found that specificity in blood-oxygen-level-dependent responses for tools in the left inferior parietal lobule and the left anterior intraparietal sulcus is independent of visual experience. These findings indicate that motor- and somatosensory-based processes are sufficient to drive specificity for representations of tools in regions of parietal cortex. More generally, some aspects of the organization of the dorsal object-processing stream develop independently of the visual information that forms the major sensory input to that pathway in sighted individuals.
tools; blind humans; conceptual knowledge; dorsal visual pathway; fMRI
Various forms of category-specificity have been described at both the cognitive and neural levels, inviting the inference that different semantic domains are processed by distinct, dedicated mechanisms. Here we argue for an extension of a Domain-Specific interpretation to these phenomena that is based on network-level analyses of functional coupling among brain regions. On this view, domain-specificity in one region of the brain emerges because of innate connectivity with a network of regions that also process information about that domain. Recent findings are reviewed that converge with this framework, and a new direction is outlined for understanding the neural principles that shape the organization of conceptual knowledge.
The cyclic naming paradigm, in which participants are slower to name pictures blocked by semantic category than pictures in an unrelated context, offers a window into the dynamics of the mapping between lexical concepts and words. Here we provide evidence for the view that incremental adjustments to the connection weights from semantics to lexical items provides an elegant explanation of a range of observations within the cyclic naming paradigm. Our principal experimental manipulation is to vary the within-category semantic distance among items that must be named together in a block. In the first set of experiments we find that naming latencies are, if anything, faster for within-category semantically close blocks compared to within-category semantically far blocks, for the first presentation of items. This effect can be explained by the fact that there will be more spreading activation, and thus greater priming at the lexical level, for within-category semantically close blocks than within-category semantically far blocks. We test this explanation by inserting intervening filler items (geometric shapes), and show as predicted, that while intervening unrelated trials abolish short-lived semantic priming effects, the long-lag interference effect that is characteristic of this paradigm is unaffected. These data place new constraints on explanations of the cyclic naming effect, and related phenomena, within a model of language production.
lexical access; speech production; semantic interference; semantic facilitation; semantic distance; cyclic naming paradigm
We report a new pattern of usage in current, spoken Italian that has implications for both psycholinguistic models of language production and linguistic theories of language change. In Italian, gender agreement is mandatory for both singular and plural nouns. However, when two or more nouns of different grammatical gender appear in a conjoined noun phrase (NP), masculine plural agreement is required. In this study, we combined on-line and off-line methodologies in order to assess the mechanisms involved in gender marking in the context of multiple referents. The results of two pronoun production tasks showed that plural feminine agreement was significantly more difficult than plural masculine agreement. In a separate study using offline judgements of acceptability, we found that agreement violations in Italian are tolerated more readily in the case of feminine conjoined noun phrases (e.g., la mela e la banana ‘the:fem apple:fem and the: fem banana: fem’) than masculine conjoined noun phrases (e.g., il fiore e il libro ‘the:mas flower: mas and the:mas book:mas’). Implications of these results are discussed both at the level of functional architecture within the language production system and at the level of changes in language use.*
The word class effect in the picture–word interference paradigm is a highly influential finding that has provided some of the most compelling support for word class constraints on lexical selection. However, methodological concerns called for a replication of the most convincing of those effects. Experiment 1 was a direct replication of Pechmann and Zerbst (2002; Experiment 4). Participants named pictures of objects in the context of noun and adverb distractors. Naming took place in bare noun and sentence frame contexts. A word class effect emerged in both bare noun and sentence frame naming conditions, suggesting a semantic origin of the effect. In Experiment 2, participants named objects in the context of noun and verb distractors whose word class relationship to the target and imageability were orthogonally manipulated. As before, naming took place in bare noun and sentence frame naming contexts. In both naming contexts, distractor imageability but not word class affected picture naming latencies. These findings confirm the sensitivity of the picture–word interference paradigm to distractor imageability and suggest the paradigm is not sensitive to distractor word class. The results undermine the use of the word class effect in the picture–word interference paradigm as supportive of word class constraints during lexical selection.
Lexical access; Lexical selection; Grammatical class; Imageability; Picture–word interference
One of the most provocative and exciting issues in cognitive science is how neural specificity for semantic categories of common objects arises in the functional architecture of the brain. More than two decades of research on the neuropsychological phenomenon of category-specific semantic deficits has generated detailed claims about the organization and representation of conceptual knowledge. More recently, researchers have sought to test hypotheses developed on the basis of neuropsychological evidence with functional imaging. From those two fields, the empirical generalization emerges that object domain and sensory modality jointly constrain the organization of knowledge in the brain. At the same time, research within the embodied cognition framework has highlighted the need to articulate how information is communicated between the sensory and motor systems, and processes that represent and generalize abstract information. Those developments point toward a new approach for understanding category specificity in terms of the coordinated influences of diverse regions and cognitive systems.
category-specific semantic deficits; apraxia; semantic organization; domain specific; sensory motor
In 2 experiments participants named pictures of common objects with superimposed distractor words. In one naming condition, the pictures and words were presented simultaneously on every trial, and participants produced the target response immediately. In the other naming condition, the presentation of the picture preceded the presentation of the distractor by 1,000 ms, and participants delayed production of their naming response until distractor word presentation. Within each naming condition, the distractor words were either semantic category coordinates of the target pictures or unrelated. Orthogonal to this manipulation of semantic relatedness, the frequency of the pictures’ names was manipulated. The authors observed semantic interference effects in both the immediate and delayed naming conditions but a frequency effect only in the immediate naming condition. These data indicate that semantic interference can be observed when target picture naming latencies do not reflect the bottleneck at the level of lexical selection. In the context of other findings from the picture–word interference paradigm, the authors interpret these data as supporting the view that the semantic interference effect arises at a postlexical level of processing.
semantic interference effect; lexical selection by competition; picture-word interference; delayed naming; response exclusion hypothesis
The dorsal visual processing stream subserves object directed action, while the ventral visual processing stream subserves visual object recognition. Little is known about how information computed by dorsal stream structures influences object recognition. We used Continuous Flash Suppression to functionally isolate the information computed by the dorsal stream from that computed by the ventral stream. We show that the information originating from the dorsal stream influences not only decisions requiring superordinate category knowledge, but also decisions that entail the selection of a basic-level object. We further show that the information computed by the dorsal stream does not carry specific functional information about objects. Our results indicate that the dorsal stream, in isolation from the ventral stream, is agnostic as to the identity of the objects that it processes. Instead, we suggest that structures within the dorsal stream compute motor-relevant information (e.g., graspability) that influences the identification of manipulable objects.
The cumulative semantic cost describes a phenomenon in which picture naming latencies increase monotonically with each additional within-category item that is named in a sequence of pictures. Here we test whether the cumulative semantic cost requires the assumption of lexical selection by competition. In Experiment 1 participants named a sequence of pictures, while in Experiment 2 participants named words instead of pictures, preceded by a gender marked determiner. We replicate the basic cumulative semantic cost with pictures (Exp. 1) and show that there is no cumulative semantic cost for word targets (Exp. 2). This pattern was replicated in Experiment 3 in which pictures and words were named along with their gender marked definite determiner, and were intermingled within the same experimental design. In addition, Experiment 3 showed that while picture naming induces a cumulative semantic cost for subsequently named words, word naming does not induce a cumulative semantic cost for subsequently named pictures. These findings suggest that the cumulative semantic cost arises prior to lexical selection and that the effect arises due to incremental changes to the connection weights between semantic and lexical representations.
Cumulative semantic cost; Semantic interference; Lexical access; Picture naming; Semantic access
The principles driving the organization of the ventral object-processing stream remain unknown. Here we show that stimulus-specific repetition suppression (RS) in one region of the ventral stream is biased according to motor-relevant properties of objects. Quantitative analysis confirmed that this result was not confounded with similarity in visual shape. A similar pattern of biases in RS according to motor-relevant properties of objects was observed in dorsal stream regions in the left hemisphere. These findings suggest that neural specificity for ‘tools’ in the ventral stream is driven by similarity metrics computed over motor-relevant information represented in dorsal structures. Support for this view is provided by converging results from functional connectivity analyses of the fMRI data and a separate neuropsychological study. More generally, these data suggest that a basic organizing principle giving rise to ‘category-specificity’ in the ventral stream may involve similarity metrics computed over information represented elsewhere in the brain.