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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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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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 20:629-40
Yee, Eiling; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L (2016) Putting concepts into context. Psychon Bull Rev 23:1015-27
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 26:1669-76
Kraemer, David J M; Schinazi, Victor R; Cawkwell, Philip B et al. (2016) Verbalizing, Visualizing, and Navigating: The Effect of Strategies on Encoding a Large-Scale Virtual Environment. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn :
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 82:134-41
Musz, Elizabeth; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L (2015) Semantic variability predicts neural variability of object concepts. Neuropsychologia 76:41-51
Persichetti, Andrew S; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L; Butt, Omar H et al. (2015) Functional magnetic resonance imaging adaptation reveals a noncategorical representation of hue in early visual cortex. J Vis 15:18
Coutanche, Marc N; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L (2015) Creating Concepts from Converging Features in Human Cortex. Cereb Cortex 25:2584-93
Boylan, Christine; Trueswell, John C; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L (2015) Compositionality and the angular gyrus: A multi-voxel similarity analysis of the semantic composition of nouns and verbs. Neuropsychologia 78:130-41
Persichetti, Andrew S; Aguirre, Geoffrey K; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L (2015) Value is in the eye of the beholder: early visual cortex codes monetary value of objects during a diverted attention task. J Cogn Neurosci 27:893-901

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