Friday, April 26, 2013

Abstraction and Integration in Lateral Prefrontal Cortex

Recently the journal Cerebral Cortex accepted one of our lab's papers for publication, which has made me ecstatically, deliriously happy. This represents one of the highwater marks of my publishing career, even greater than the erotically-tinged agitprop novel I published serially in my college's Pravda-inspired newspaper. Entitled A Long Caress: Twilight of the Capitalist Idols, the book followed the lives of two dreamy radicals pursued by the CIA, of which I provide an excerpt:

Boris laid aside his Chernyshevsky pamphlet and looked at Olga. Hearing his declaiming against the capitalist dogs had brought her to a fever heat; and now, as he watched her, he noticed the graceful curves of her neck, brought into relief by the delicate strands of jet-black hair gently brushing against her collarbone and the edges of her heaving bosom. She gazed at him adoringly, sloe-eyed, her cheeks flushed, the glistening sweat making her Party-issued uniform cling to her skin like fuzz on a peach. Around her waist he wrapped his strong, powerful arms, and she offered herself up like a prize.

A few miles away in an underground bunker, all of this was transmitted through a hidden wire to CIA agent John Davies. Pressing his headphones closer to his ears, Davies frowned. "Blimey," he said.

While our new paper does not come close to the rhapsodic heights of A Long Caress, it still goes a long way to resolving fundamental issues with studying different forms of abstraction. One form of abstraction, temporal abstraction, refers to maintaining information over time, with more remote events requiring correspondingly greater levels of temporal abstraction; while a related form of abstraction, relational abstraction, refers to processing higher-level information, such as complex features of stimuli. Unhappily, they are often confounded in the same experiment. This study attempted to tease apart both of these forms of abstraction, as well as independently assess the effects of integration, wherein several different pieces of information need to be collectively processed in order to make a correct response. Temporal abstraction was nonexistent, while relational abstraction effects were found in lateral premotor cortex and rostrolateral prefrontal cortex. Integration was associated with increased activation in superior frontal sulcus and frontopolar cortex, consistent with this region's handling more abstract representations between items.

A link to the paper can be found here. Documentary footage of Stalin ordering the deaths of his generals and field marshals can be found in the following video.

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