There is a long-standing debate about whether categories are represented by individual category members (exemplars) or by the central tendency abstracted from individual members (prototypes). Neuroimaging studies have shown neural evidence for either exemplar representations or prototype representations, but not both. Presently, we asked whether it is possible for multiple types of category representations to exist within a single task. We designed a categorization task to promote both exemplar and prototype representations and tracked their formation across learning. We found only prototype correlates during the final test. However, interim tests interspersed throughout learning showed prototype and exemplar representations across distinct brain regions that aligned with previous studies: prototypes in ventromedial prefrontal cortex and anterior hippocampus and exemplars in inferior frontal gyrus and lateral parietal cortex. These findings indicate that, under the right circumstances, individuals may form representations at multiple levels of specificity, potentially facilitating a broad range of future decisions.
Raw MRI data have been deposited at openneuro.org/datasets/ds002813. Source data have been provided for Figures 3-6.
- Caitlin R Bowman
- Dasa Zeithamova
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.
Human subjects: All participants provided written informed consent, and Research Compliance Services at the University of Oregon approved all experimental procedures (approval code 10162014.010).
- Morgan Barense, University of Toronto, Canada
© 2020, Bowman et al.
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.