From Brain Maps to Cognitive Ontologies: Informatics and the Search for Mental Structure

Annu Rev Psychol. 2016;67:587-612. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-122414-033729. Epub 2015 Sep 21.


A major goal of cognitive neuroscience is to delineate how brain systems give rise to mental function. Here we review the increasingly large role informatics-driven approaches are playing in such efforts. We begin by reviewing a number of challenges conventional neuroimaging approaches face in trying to delineate brain-cognition mappings--for example, the difficulty in establishing the specificity of postulated associations. Next, we demonstrate how these limitations can potentially be overcome using complementary approaches that emphasize large-scale analysis--including meta-analytic methods that synthesize hundreds or thousands of studies at a time; latent-variable approaches that seek to extract structure from data in a bottom-up manner; and predictive modeling approaches capable of quantitatively inferring mental states from patterns of brain activity. We highlight the underappreciated but critical role for formal cognitive ontologies in helping to clarify, refine, and test theories of brain and cognitive function. Finally, we conclude with a speculative discussion of what future informatics developments may hold for cognitive neuroscience.

Keywords: classification; cognition; meta-analysis; neuroimaging; neuroinformatics; ontologies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognitive Neuroscience*
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Neuroimaging*