Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

Institut für Deutsch als Fremdsprachenphilologie

Learning of concepts

Speaker: Peter Indefrey

Affiliation: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics &

        F.C. Donders for Cognitive Neuroimaging (Nijmegen),

Title: Learning of concepts: a cognitive neuroscience perspective


In cognitive neuroscience there are two main research lines that deal with the acquisition of concepts. One has emerged from research on the representation of object categories. Starting with Martin et al. (1996) there is a large body of research showing that different kinds of objects (animals, tools, faces, furniture etc.) elicit different activation patterns in the brain. While this general observation is uncontroversial, there is no agreement whether these different activation patterns are due to differential recruitment of neural structures that are specialized for processing certain objects, certain visual features, certain perceptual or functional attributes, or highly overlearned types of objects. I will present some recent research suggesting that the acquisition of new object categories is accompanied by stronger activation of some neuronal populations that seem to encode category-specific perceptual or functional features. Yet unpublished data show the emergence of a category-specific neural response to arbitrary categories that are not directly linked to perceptual or functional features.

The other line of research is interested in the neural correlates of learning new words, including their meaning. Electrophysiological data show that novel words can quickly receive a semantic representation. Hemodynamic studies, by contrast, observe changes in brain areas that are related to the acquisition of new word forms, but tend to find few or inconsistent neural correlates of conceptual learning.