How do blind people represent rainbows? Disentangling components of conceptual representations.

Ella Striem-Amit, Xiaoying Wang, Yanchao Bi and Alfonso Caramazza

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Apr 16, 2018
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Received: 29th March 18

How do we represent information that has no sensory features? How are abstract concepts like “freedom”, devoid of external perceptible referents, represented in the brain? To address the role of sensory information in the neural representation of concepts, we investigated how people born blind process concepts whose referents are imperceptible to them because of their visual nature (e.g. “rainbow” or “red”). Activity for these concepts was compared to that of partially sensorially-perceptible referents (e.g. “rain”), classical abstract concepts (e.g., “justice”) and concrete concepts (e.g., “cup”), providing a gradient between fully concrete and fully abstract concepts in the blind. We find differential ATL responses based on factors of concept perceptibility and objecthood: preference of imperceptible object concepts was found in dorsal ATL, for abstract (non-object) concepts in lateral ATL, and for perceptible concepts in medial ATL. The findings point to a new division of labor among aspects of ATL in representing conceptual properties that are abstract for different reasons.

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This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.

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