Mental models use common neural spatial structure for spatial and abstract content

Kay Alfred and colleagues (Dartmouth U.) present a new paper in Communications Biology on how spatial and abstract content implicates common neural structures traceable to model-based thinking. The abstract is here:

Mental models provide a cognitive framework allowing for spatially organizing information while reasoning about the world. However, transitive reasoning studies often rely on perception of stimuli that contain visible spatial features, allowing the possibility that associated neural representations are specific to inherently spatial content. Here, we test the hypothesis that neural representations of mental models generated through transitive reasoning rely on a frontoparietal network irrespective of the spatial nature of the stimulus content. Content within three models ranges from expressly visuospatial to abstract. All mental models participants generated were based on inferred relationships never directly observed. Here, using multivariate representational similarity analysis, we show that patterns representative of mental models were revealed in both superior parietal lobule and anterior prefrontal cortex and converged across stimulus types. These results support the conclusion that, independent of content, transitive reasoning using mental models relies on neural mechanisms associated with spatial cognition.

And the paper is accessible here.

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