Environmental influences on neural systems of relational complexity

dc.contributor.authorKalbfleisch, M. Layne
dc.contributor.authordeBettencourt, Megan T.
dc.contributor.authorKopperman, Rebecca
dc.contributor.authorBanasiak, Meredith
dc.contributor.authorRoberts, Joshua M.
dc.contributor.authorHalavi, Maryam
dc.description.abstractConstructivist learning theory contends that we construct knowledge by experience and that environmental context influences learning. To explore this principle, we examined the cognitive process relational complexity (RC), defined as the number of visual dimensions considered during problem solving on a matrix reasoning task and a well-documented measure of mature reasoning capacity. We sought to determine how the visual environment influences RC by examining the influence of color and visual contrast on RC in a neuroimaging task. To specify the contributions of sensory demand and relational integration to reasoning, our participants performed a non-verbal matrix task comprised of color, no-color line, or black-white visual contrast conditions parametrically varied by complexity (relations 0, 1, 2). The use of matrix reasoning is ecologically valid for its psychometric relevance and for its potential to link the processing of psychophysically specific visual properties with various levels of RC during reasoning. The role of these elements is important because matrix tests assess intellectual aptitude based on these seemingly context-less exercises. This experiment is a first step toward examining the psychophysical underpinnings of performance on these types of problems. The importance of this is increased in light of recent evidence that intelligence can be linked to visual discrimination. We submit three main findings. First, color and black-white visual contrast (BWVC) add demand at a basic sensory level, but contributions from color and from BWVC are dissociable in cortex such that color engages a “reasoning heuristic” and BWVC engages a “sensory heuristic.” Second, color supports contextual sense-making by boosting salience resulting in faster problem solving. Lastly, when visual complexity reaches 2-relations, color and visual contrast relinquish salience to other dimensions of problem solving.
dc.description.sponsorshipSalary support for M. Layne Kalbfleisch was provided by Leonard and Virginia Pomata. Salary support for M. Banasiak was provided by the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA). Publication of this article was funded in part by the George Mason University Libraries Open Access Publishing Fund.
dc.identifier.citationKalbfleisch ML, deBettencourt MT, Kopperman R, Banasiak M, Roberts JM and Halavi M (2013) Environmental influences on neural systems of relational complexity. Front. Psychol. 4:631. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00631
dc.rightsAttribution 3.0 United States
dc.subjectEvent-related fMRI
dc.subjectHeuristic processing
dc.subjectPrefrontal cortex
dc.subjectColor perception
dc.subjectRelational complexity
dc.subjectVisual contrast
dc.subjectConstructivist learning
dc.titleEnvironmental influences on neural systems of relational complexity


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