The potato chip really does look like elvis! Neural hallmarks of conceptual processing associated with finding novel shapes subjectively meaningful

Joel L. Voss, Kara D. Federmeier, Ken A. Paller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Clouds and inkblots often compellingly resemble something else - faces, animals, or other identifiable objects. Here, we investigated illusions of meaning produced by novel visual shapes. Individuals found some shapes meaningful and others meaningless, with considerable variability among individuals in these subjective categorizations. Repetition for shapes endorsed as meaningful produced conceptual priming in a priming test along with concurrent activity reductions in cortical regions associated with conceptual processing of real objects. Subjectively meaningless shapes elicited robust activity in the same brain areas, but activity was not influenced by repetition. Thus, all shapes were conceptually evaluated, but stable conceptual representations supported neural priming for meaningful shapes only. During a recognition memory test, performance was associated with increased frontoparietal activity, regardless of meaningfulness. In contrast, neural conceptual priming effects for meaningful shapes occurred during both priming and recognition testing. These different patterns of brain activation as a function of stimulus repetition, type of memory test, and subjective meaningfulness underscore the distinctive neural bases of conceptual fluency versus episodic memory retrieval. Finding meaning in ambiguous stimuli appears to depend on conceptual evaluation and cortical processing events similar to those typically observed for known objects. To the brain, the vaguely Elvis-like potato chip truly can provide a substitute for the King himself.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2354-2364
Number of pages11
JournalCerebral Cortex
Volume22
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2012

Keywords

  • conceptual priming
  • explicit memory
  • perceptual learning
  • perceptual recognition
  • semantic priming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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