When informed that A > B and B > C, humans and other animals can easily conclude that A > C. This remarkable trait of advanced animals, which allows them to manipulate knowledge flexibly to infer logical relations, has only recently garnered interest in mainstream neuroscience. How the brain controls these logical processes remains an unanswered question that has been merely superficially addressed in neuroimaging and lesion studies, which are unable to identify the underlying neuronal computations. We observed that the activation pattern of neurons in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) during pair comparisons in a highly demanding transitive inference task fully supports the behavioral performance of the two monkeys that we tested. Our results indicate that the PFC contributes to the construction and use of a mental schema to represent premises. This evidence provides a novel framework for understanding the function of various areas of brain in logic processes and impairments to them in degenerative, traumatic, and psychiatric pathologies. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: In cognitive neuroscience, it is unknown how information that leads to inferential deductions are encoded and manipulated at the neuronal level. We addressed this question by recording single-unit activity from the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of monkeys that were performing a transitive inference (TI) task. The TI required one to choose the higher ranked of two items, based on previous, indirect experience. Our results demonstrated that single-neuron activity supports the construction of an abstract, mental schema of ordered items in solving the task and that this representation is independent of the reward value that is experienced for the single items. These findings identify the neural substrates of abstract mental representations that support inferential thinking.

Neuronal modulation in the prefrontal cortex in a transitive inference task: evidence of neuronal correlates of mental schema management / Brunamonti, Emiliano; Mione, Valentina; DI BELLO, Fabio; Pani, Pierpaolo; Genovesio, Aldo; Ferraina, Stefano. - In: THE JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE. - ISSN 0270-6474. - STAMPA. - 36:4(2016), pp. 1223-1236. [10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1473-15.2016]

Neuronal modulation in the prefrontal cortex in a transitive inference task: evidence of neuronal correlates of mental schema management

BRUNAMONTI, EMILIANO;MIONE, VALENTINA;DI BELLO, FABIO;PANI, Pierpaolo;GENOVESIO, Aldo;FERRAINA, Stefano
2016

Abstract

When informed that A > B and B > C, humans and other animals can easily conclude that A > C. This remarkable trait of advanced animals, which allows them to manipulate knowledge flexibly to infer logical relations, has only recently garnered interest in mainstream neuroscience. How the brain controls these logical processes remains an unanswered question that has been merely superficially addressed in neuroimaging and lesion studies, which are unable to identify the underlying neuronal computations. We observed that the activation pattern of neurons in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) during pair comparisons in a highly demanding transitive inference task fully supports the behavioral performance of the two monkeys that we tested. Our results indicate that the PFC contributes to the construction and use of a mental schema to represent premises. This evidence provides a novel framework for understanding the function of various areas of brain in logic processes and impairments to them in degenerative, traumatic, and psychiatric pathologies. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: In cognitive neuroscience, it is unknown how information that leads to inferential deductions are encoded and manipulated at the neuronal level. We addressed this question by recording single-unit activity from the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of monkeys that were performing a transitive inference (TI) task. The TI required one to choose the higher ranked of two items, based on previous, indirect experience. Our results demonstrated that single-neuron activity supports the construction of an abstract, mental schema of ordered items in solving the task and that this representation is independent of the reward value that is experienced for the single items. These findings identify the neural substrates of abstract mental representations that support inferential thinking.
monkey; prefrontal cortex; single-unit activity; transitive inference
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Neuronal modulation in the prefrontal cortex in a transitive inference task: evidence of neuronal correlates of mental schema management / Brunamonti, Emiliano; Mione, Valentina; DI BELLO, Fabio; Pani, Pierpaolo; Genovesio, Aldo; Ferraina, Stefano. - In: THE JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE. - ISSN 0270-6474. - STAMPA. - 36:4(2016), pp. 1223-1236. [10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1473-15.2016]
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11573/857311
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