Declarative category learning system

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Davis, Tyler Harrison

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Categorization is a fundamental process that underlies much of cognition. People form categories that allow them to generalize to and make inferences about novel objects and events. Current accounts of category learning suggest that there are two systems for learning categories, an explicit rule-based system that depends on frontal-striatal loops and working memory, and a procedural system that learns implicitly and depends on the tail of the caudate nucleus and occipital regions. In the present thesis, I propose that an additional declarative category learning system exists that is recruited to learn categories that are associated with multiple conjunctive and explicit, but not strictly rule-based, representations. The basis of the declarative category learning system is then tested in several behavioral and physiological recording experiments. The first issue that is examined in relation to the declarative category learning system is how subjects’ ability to encode stimuli affects their ability to form new flexible conjunctive representations. I provide evidence consistent with the idea that there are two ways to encode stimuli in category learning, either as a conjunction of individual parts or as holistic images. Forming part-based representations is found to be especially critical for forming new conjunctive representations for exceptions in brief single session experiments. A second question is how emotional processes interact with the declarative category learning system. Numerous lines of evidence suggest that emotional processes strongly affect learning and behavior. In a study using skin conductance, I find that anticipatory emotions (i.e., emotions present before a behavioral response) show a pattern consistent with orienting attention to behaviorally significant or potentially novel events. A final fMRI project ties together hypotheses about anticipatory emotions and encoding to their neural basis and provides a test of the predicted mapping of the declarative category learning system to the brain. By relating quantitative predictions from SUSTAIN, a model that shares relationships to the medial temporal lobes (MTL) and declarative category learning system, to fMRI data, I find clusters in an MTL-midbrain-PFC network that show patterns of activation consistent with recognizing exception items and updating these representations in response to error or surprise.




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