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Fractionating the neural substrates of transitive reasoning: task-dependent contributions of spatial and verbal representations


Prado JJérôme , Mutreja RRachna , Booth JRJames R . Cerebral cortex. 2012 1 23; 23(3). 499-507


It has long been suggested that transitive reasoning relies on spatial representations in the posterior parietal cortex (PPC). Previous neuroimaging studies, however, have always focused on linear arguments, such as “John is taller than Tom, Tom is taller than Chris, therefore John is taller than Chris.” Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we demonstrate here that verbal representations contribute to transitive reasoning when it involves set-inclusion relations (e.g., “All Tulips are Flowers, All Flowers are Plants, therefore All Tulips are Plants”). In the present study, such arguments were found to engage verbal processing regions of the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and left PPC that were identified in an independent localizer task. Specifically, activity in these verbal regions increased as the number of relations increased in set-inclusion arguments. Importantly, this effect was specific to set-inclusion arguments because left IFG and left PPC were not differentially engaged when the number of relations increased in linear arguments. Instead, such an increase was linked to decreased activity in a spatial processing region of the right PPC that was identified in an independent localizer task. Therefore, both verbal and spatial representations can underlie transitive reasoning, but their engagement depends upon the structure of the argument.