Meta-analysis: how does posterior parietal cortex contribute to reasoning?

Front Hum Neurosci. 2015 Jan 21;8:1042. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.01042. eCollection 2014.


Reasoning depends on the contribution of posterior parietal cortex (PPC). But PPC is involved in many basic operations-including spatial attention, mathematical cognition, working memory, long-term memory, and language-and the nature of its contribution to reasoning is unclear. Psychological theories of the processes underlying reasoning make divergent claims about the neural systems that are likely to be involved, and better understanding the specific contribution of PPC can help to inform these theories. We set out to address several competing hypotheses, concerning the role of PPC in reasoning: (1) reasoning involves application of formal logic and is dependent on language, with PPC activation for reasoning mainly reflective of linguistic processing; (2) reasoning involves probabilistic computation and is thus dependent on numerical processing mechanisms in PPC; and (3) reasoning is built upon the representation and processing of spatial relations, and PPC activation associated with reasoning reflects spatial processing. We conducted two separate meta-analyses. First, we pooled data from our own studies of reasoning in adults, and examined activation in PPC regions of interest (ROI). Second, we conducted an automated meta-analysis using Neurosynth, in which we examined overlap between activation maps associated with reasoning and maps associated with other key functions of PPC. In both analyses, we observed reasoning-related activation concentrated in the left Inferior Parietal Lobe (IPL). Reasoning maps demonstrated the greatest overlap with mathematical cognition. Maintenance, visuospatial, and phonological processing also demonstrated some overlap with reasoning, but a large portion of the reasoning map did not overlap with the map for any other function. This evidence suggests that the PPC's contribution to reasoning may be most closely related to its role in mathematical cognition, but that a core component of this contribution may be specific to reasoning.

Keywords: IPL; SPL; deductive reasoning; meta-analysis; numerical cognition; posterior parietal cortex; spatial cognition.