Quantifying the internal structure of categories using a neural typicality measure

Tyler Davis, Russell A. Poldrack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


How categories are represented continues to be hotly debated across neuroscience and psychology. One topic that is central to cognitive research on category representation but underexplored in neurobiological research concerns the internal structure of categories. Internal structure refers to how the natural variability between-category members is coded so that we are able to determine which members are more typical or better examples of their category. Psychological categorization models offer tools for predicting internal structure and suggest that perceptions of typicality arise from similarities between the representations of category members in a psychological space. Inspired by these models, we develop a neural typicality measure that allows us to measure which category members elicit patterns of activation that are similar to other members of their category and are thus more central in a neural space. Using an artificial categorization task, we test how psychological and physical typicality contribute to neural typicality, and find that neural typicality in occipital and temporal regions is significantly correlated with subjects' perceptions of typicality. The results reveal a convergence between psychological and neural category representations and suggest that our neural typicality measure is a useful tool for connecting psychological and neural measures of internal category structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1720-1737
Number of pages18
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • categorization
  • fMRI
  • representation
  • similarity


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