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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

January 2017, Vol. 29, No. 1, Pages 150-166
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01024)
© 2016 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Neural Correlates of Similarity- and Rule-based Generalization
Article PDF (1.27 MB)

The idea that there are multiple learning systems has become increasingly influential in recent years, with many studies providing evidence that there is both a quick, similarity-based or feature-based system and a more effortful rule-based system. A smaller number of imaging studies have also examined whether neurally dissociable learning systems are detectable. We further investigate this by employing for the first time in an imaging study a combined positive and negative patterning procedure originally developed by Shanks and Darby [Shanks, D. R., & Darby, R. J. Feature- and rule-based generalization in human associative learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 24, 405–415, 1998]. Unlike previous related studies employing other procedures, rule generalization in the Shanks–Darby task is beyond any simple non-rule-based (e.g., associative) account. We found that rule- and similarity-based generalization evoked common activation in diverse regions including the pFC and the bilateral parietal and occipital lobes indicating that both strategies likely share a range of common processes. No differences between strategies were identified in whole-brain comparisons, but exploratory analyses indicated that rule-based generalization led to greater activation in the right middle frontal cortex than similarity-based generalization. Conversely, the similarity group activated the anterior medial frontal lobe and right inferior parietal lobes more than the rule group did. The implications of these results are discussed.