Cognitive and Neural Foundations of Concepts


Concepts in long-term memory are important building blocks of human cognition and form the basis for language, thought and action. Traditionally, concepts are specified as abstract mental entities different from perceptual or motor systems. From this perspective, sensory or motor features of objects and events are transformed into a common amodal representational format, in which original modality-specific information is lost (Fodor, 2001). Researchers often assume that a single abstract representation underlies conceptual processing, such as feature lists, semantic networks or statistical vectors. Challenging this classical view, recent modality-specific approaches propose that concepts are essentially grounded in perception and action (Barsalou, Santos, Simmons, & Wilson, 2008). Conceptual features (e.g., visual, acoustic, action-related) are represented by cortical cell assemblies in sensory and motor areas established during concept acquisition. Hence, access to concepts involves a partial reinstatement of brain activity during perception and action (Kiefer, Sim, Herrnberger, Grothe, & Hoenig, 2008) The nature of conceptual representations is at the heart of a fierce debate in the cognitive sciences. In this symposium, we give an overview of the latest theoretical and empirical developments in research on the functional and neural architecture of conceptual memory. Speakers from a variety of disciplines including cognitive science, cognitive psychology, neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience critically discuss the sensory and motor foundations of concepts in mind and brain on the basis of different theoretical and methodological approaches.

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