Revisiting domain-general accounts of category specificity in mind and brain

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John Wiley & Sons, Inc


Theories about the neural basis of semantic knowledge have been strongly influenced by reports that particular semantic categories can be differentially impaired by neuropathology and can differentially activate particular regions of cortex in brain imaging studies. One well-known interpretation of these data is that the brain has evolved distinct functional and anatomical modules for storing and retrieving knowledge about different kinds of things. We review the evidence supporting an alternative view: that category specificity arises from many heterogeneous factors and so tells us little directly about the cognitive and neural architecture of semantic memory. We consider four general hypotheses about domain-general causes of category-specific patterns, their roots in early work, and their reemergence in contemporary research. We argue that there is compelling evidence supporting each hypothesis, and that the different hypotheses together can explain most of the interesting data. We further suggest that such a multifactor domain-general approach to category specificity is appealing partly because it explains the important findings with reference to theoretical claims that are already widely accepted, and partly because it resolves several puzzles that arise under the alternative view.