What does it mean to know something about the world? Central to any theory of knowledge is a theory of concepts, those mental representations that allow us to categorize information in the world. In this project, we attempt to understand concepts by studying their neural instantiation. The central aim of this project is to advance our understanding of the neural representation of concepts via a characterization of similarity. The broader goal of this research program is to develop a strategy for understanding the neural representation of all types of knowledge;however, to make this problem more tractable, we are focusing on a specific type of concept - concrete objects - and on a particular type of knowledge about those concepts - their visual appearance. Specifically, (1) We aim to describe the neural representation of object concepts by characterizing neural tuning to features in a multidimensional similarity space;(2) We aim to examine variation in the neural representations of object concepts, across concepts, across individuals, and across attentional states;(3) We aim to explore to role of sleep-dependent consolidation processes in the acquisition of new object concept knowledge;(4) We aim to develop innovative methods for the characterization of neural similarity more generally.

Public Health Relevance

Without concepts, we would be unable to make sense of the infinite variation in the world. Concepts organize our experiences, and they alter perception, memory, language, and action. The goal of this project is to understand the way in which conceptual knowledge is organized and the manner in which it is implemented in the brain. We will apply innovative neuroscientific methods to discover how we learn about the objects around us and how we access that information when remembering those objects.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Eye Institute (NEI)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Araj, Houmam H
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University of Pennsylvania
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Kraemer, David J M; Schinazi, Victor R; Cawkwell, Philip B et al. (2017) Verbalizing, visualizing, and navigating: The effect of strategies on encoding a large-scale virtual environment. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 43:611-621
Boylan, Christine; Trueswell, John C; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L (2017) Relational vs. attributive interpretation of nominal compounds differentially engages angular gyrus and anterior temporal lobe. Brain Lang 169:8-21
Solomon, Sarah H; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L (2017) Finding features, figuratively. Brain Lang 174:61-71
Matheson, Heath E; Buxbaum, Laurel J; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L (2017) Differential Tuning of Ventral and Dorsal Streams during the Generation of Common and Uncommon Tool Uses. J Cogn Neurosci 29:1791-1802
Coutanche, Marc N; Solomon, Sarah H; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L (2016) A meta-analysis of fMRI decoding: Quantifying influences on human visual population codes. Neuropsychologia 82:134-141
Mattar, Marcelo G; Kahn, David A; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L et al. (2016) Varying Timescales of Stimulus Integration Unite Neural Adaptation and Prototype Formation. Curr Biol 26:1669-1676
Karuza, Elisabeth A; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L; Bassett, Danielle S (2016) Local Patterns to Global Architectures: Influences of Network Topology on Human Learning. Trends Cogn Sci 20:629-640
Yee, Eiling; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L (2016) Putting concepts into context. Psychon Bull Rev 23:1015-27
Chrysikou, Evangelia G; Motyka, Katharine; Nigro, Cristina et al. (2016) Functional Fixedness in Creative Thinking Tasks Depends on Stimulus Modality. Psychol Aesthet Creat Arts 10:425-435
Mattar, Marcelo G; Cole, Michael W; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L et al. (2015) A Functional Cartography of Cognitive Systems. PLoS Comput Biol 11:e1004533

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