Two Kinds of Reverse Inference in Cognitive Neuroscience

G. Del Pinal, M. J. Nathan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter examines the prospects and limits of "reverse inferring" cognitive processes from neural data, a technique commonly used in cognitive neuroscience for discriminating between competing psychological hypotheses. Specifically, we distinguish between two main types of reverse inference. The first kind of inference moves from the locations of neural activation to the underlying cognitive processes. We illustrate this strategy by presenting a well-known example involving mirror neurons and theories of low-level mind-reading, and discuss some general methodological problems. Next, we present the second type of reverse inference by discussing an example from recognition memory research. These inferences, based on pattern-decoding techniques, do not presuppose strong assumptions about the functions of particular neural locations. Consequently, while they have been largely ignored in methodological critiques, they overcome important objections plaguing traditional methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Human Sciences after the Decade of the Brain
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780128042601
ISBN (Print)9780128042052
StatePublished - Feb 13 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive neuroscience
  • Mind-reading
  • Mirror neurons
  • Multivariate-pattern analysis
  • Reverse inference
  • Simulation theory
  • Theory-theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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