The Neural Mechanisms of Relational Reasoning: Dissociating Representational Types


The ability to reason about information is an essential human capability. It is less understood from the perspective of neuro-cognitive processes which can serve to constrain cognitive theories by implications from neuroscientific data. Despite some progress in the last decades, some disagreement about the experimental results and the cognitive processes of reasoning with abstract relations versus visuospatial relations persist. We conducted a cross-study meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies to determine the neural correlates of visuospatial and abstract relational reasoning. We analyzed 884 stereotactic data points from 38 studies and 692 subjects. We found that relational reasoning is mediated by the fronto-parietal network, especially the right precuneus and the left pars triangularis. Problems with abstract relations are processed by enhanced activation in the inferior parietal lobe, whereas visuospatial reasoning is promoted by prefrontal domains. Our results disentangle the neurocognitive mechanisms of different representational types of relational reasoning across study designs.

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