The proactive brain: Predictions in visual cognition

by Moshe Bar

Just like physicists can explain complex systems with a small set of elegant equations, it might be possible for the multidisciplinary study of the human mind to produce a list of well-defined universal principles that can explain the majority of its operation.  Given exciting developments in theory and empirical findings, I had proposed that the generation of predictions might be one strong candidate for such a universal principle. In this proposal, analogies are derived from elementary information that is extracted rapidly from the input, to link that input with representations that exist in memory. Finding an analogical link results in the generation of focused predictions via associative activation of representations that are relevant to this analogy in the given context. Predictions in complex circumstances, such as social interactions, combine multiple analogies. Such predictions need not be created “from scratch” in new situations, but rather rely on memories that are the result of real as well as of previously imagined experiences. The findings that my laboratory has provided to date to support this proposal encompass predictions in object and scene recognition, in person judgment, and in the formation of preferences. This cognitive neuroscience framework offers a new hypothesis with which to consider the purpose of memory, and can help explain a variety of phenomena: from recognition to impressions, and from the brain’s ‘default mode’ to mood and a host of mental disorders.

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