The anatomical and functional correlates of category-specificity

  • R.M. Thomas

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The dramatic effects of brain damage can provide some of the most interesting insights into the nature of normal cognitive performance. In recent years a number of neuropsychological studies have reported a particular form of cognitive impairment where patients have problems recognising objects from one category but remain able to recognise those from others. The most frequent ‘category-specific’ pattern is an impairment identifying living things, compared to nonliving things. The reverse pattern of dissociation, i.e., an impairment recognising and naming nonliving things relative to living things, has been reported albeit much less frequently. The objective of the work carried out in this thesis was to investigate the organising principles and anatomical correlates of stored knowledge for categories of living and nonliving things. Three complementary cognitive neuropsychological research techniques were employed to assess how, and where, this knowledge is represented in the brain: (i) studies of normal (neurologically intact) subjects, (ii) case-studies of neurologically impaired patients with selective deficits in object recognition, and (iii) studies of the anatomical correlates of stored knowledge for living and nonliving things on the brain using magnetoencephalography (MEG). The main empirical findings showed that semantic knowledge about living and nonliving things is principally encoded in terms of sensory and functional features, respectively. In two case-study chapters evidence was found supporting the view that category-specific impairments can arise from damage to a pre-semantic system, rather than the assumption often made that the system involved must be semantic. In the MEG study, rather than finding evidence for the involvement of specific brain areas for different object categories, it appeared that, when subjects named and categorised living and nonliving things, a non-differentiated neural system was involved.
Date of AwardMay 2004
Original languageEnglish


  • living and nonliving things
  • object recognition
  • MEG
  • semantic knowledge
  • visual agnosia

Cite this