Towards a distributed account of conceptual knowledge

Trends Cogn Sci. 2001 Jun 1;5(6):244-252. doi: 10.1016/s1364-6613(00)01651-x.

Abstract

How is conceptual knowledge organized and represented? Are domains (such as living things) and categories (such as tools, fruit) represented explicitly or can domain and category structure emerge out of a distributed system? Taken at face value, evidence from brain-damaged patients and neuroimaging studies suggests that conceptual knowledge is explicitly structured in independent content-based stores. However, recent analyses of the fine-grained details of semantic impairments, combined with research using connectionist modelling, suggest a different picture - one in which concepts are represented as patterns of activation over multiple semantic properties within a unitary distributed system. Within this context, category-specific deficits emerge as a result of differences in the structure and content of concepts rather than from explicit divisions of conceptual knowledge in separate stores.