Dissociation of category-learning systems via brain potentials

Robert G. Morrison*, Paul J. Reber, Krishna L. Bharani, Ken A. Paller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Behavioral, neuropsychological, and neuroimaging evidence has suggested that categories can often be learned via either an explicit rule-based (RB) mechanism critically dependent on medial temporal and prefrontal brain regions, or via an implicit information- integration (II) mechanism relying on the basal ganglia. In this study, participants viewed sine-wave gratings (Gabor patches) that varied on two dimensions and learned to categorize them via trial-by-trial feedback. Two different stimulus distributions were used; one was intended to encourage an explicit RB process and the other an implicit II process. We monitored brain activity with scalp electroencephalography (EEG) while each participant: (1) passively observed stimuli represented of both distributions; (2) categorized stimuli from one distribution, and, 1 week later; (3) categorized stimuli from the other distribution. Categorization accuracy was similar for the two distributions. Subtractions of Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) for correct and incorrect trials were used to identify neural differences in RB and II categorization processes. We identified an occipital brain potential that was differentially modulated by categorization condition accuracy at an early latency (150-250 ms), likely reflecting the degree of holistic processing. A stimulus-locked Late Positive Complex (LPC) associated with explicit memory updating was modulated by accuracy in the RB, but not the II task. Likewise, a feedback-locked P300 ERP associated with expectancy was correlated with performance only in the RB, but not the II condition. These results provide additional evidence for distinct brain mechanisms supporting RB vs. implicit II category learning and use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number389
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberJULY
StatePublished - Jul 7 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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