Conceptual structure within and between modalities

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    Current views of semantic memory share the assumption that conceptual representations are based on multi-modal experience, which activates distinct modality-specific brain regions. This proposition is widely accepted, yet little is known about how each modality contributes to conceptual knowledge and how the structure of this contribution varies across these multiple information sources. We used verbal feature lists, features from drawings and verbal co-occurrence statistics from latent semantic analysis to examine the informational structure in four domains of knowledge: perceptual, functional, encyclopedic and verbal. The goals of the analysis were three-fold: (1) to assess the structure within individual modalities; (2) to compare structures between modalities; and (3) to assess the degree to which concepts organize categorically or randomly. Our results indicated significant and unique structure in all four modalities: perceptually, concepts organize based on prominent features such as shape, size, color and parts; functionally, they group based on use and interaction; encyclopedically, they arrange based on commonality in location or behavior; and verbally, they group associatively or relationally. Visual/perceptual knowledge gives rise to the strongest hierarchical organization and is closest to classic taxonomic structure. Information is organized somewhat similarly in the perceptual and encyclopedic domains, which differs significantly from the structure in the functional and verbal domains. Notably, the verbal modality has the most unique organization, which is not at all categorical but also not random. The idiosyncrasy and complexity of conceptual structure across modalities raise the question of how all of these modality-specific experiences are fused together into coherent, multi-faceted yet unified concepts. Accordingly, both methodological and theoretical implications of the present findings are discussed. © 2012 Dilkina and Lambon_ralph.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2012


    • Concepts
    • Conceptual organization
    • Hub-and-spoke model
    • Modality-specific knowledge
    • Multimodal knowledge
    • Semantic system


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