Dissociable neural subsystems underlie abstract and specific object recognition

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Participants named objects presented in the left or right visual field during a test phase, after viewing centrally presented same-exemplar objects, different-exemplar objects, and words that name objects during an initial encoding phase. In two experiments, repetition priming was exemplar-abstract yet visual when test objects were presented directly to the left cerebral hemisphere, but exemplar-specific when test objects were presented directly to the right cerebral hemisphere, contrary to predictions from single-system theories of object recognition. In two other experiments, stimulus degradation during encoding and task demands during test modulated these results in predicted ways. The results support the theory that dissociable neural subsystems operate in parallel (not in sequence) to underlie visual object recognition: An abstract-category subsystem operates more effectively than a specific-exemplar subsystem in the left hemisphere, and a specific-exemplar subsystem operates more effectively than an abstract-category subsystem in the right hemisphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-118
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1999

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I sincerely thank Eric Cooper for the use of his line drawings of objects; Darcy Burgund, Dan Kersten, and Kelly Snyder for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript; Tom Carlson, Phuong Chung, Christian Herro, Mike Hillenbrand, Jacquelyn Lesure-Croteau, Yolandia Rodland, Kelly Snyder, Ryan Van Wyhe, and Wes West for assistance with data collection; Dave Andresen, Lisa Elo, and Dom Qualley for help with data scoring and analysis; and Chris Azorson for insightful discussion. This work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, Grant MH53959-01; by the McDonnell-Pew Cognitive Neuroscience Center and the Arizona Cognitive Science Program of the University of Arizona; and by the Center for Cognitive Sciences in conjunction with the National Science Foundation (GER 9454163) and the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Dean of the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota. An earlier report of this research was presented at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Philadelphia (November 1997).


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