Nature Reviews Neuroscience 4, 310-322 (April 2003) | doi:10.1038/nrn1076

The parallel distributed processing approach to semantic cognition

James L. McClelland1 & Timothy T. Rogers2  About the authors


How do we know what properties something has, and which of its properties should be generalized to other objects? How is the knowledge underlying these abilities acquired, and how is it affected by brain disorders? Our approach to these issues is based on the idea that cognitive processes arise from the interactions of neurons through synaptic connections. The knowledge in such interactive and distributed processing systems is stored in the strengths of the connections and is acquired gradually through experience. Degradation of semantic knowledge occurs through degradation of the patterns of neural activity that probe the knowledge stored in the connections. Simulation models based on these ideas capture semantic cognitive processes and their development and disintegration, encompassing domain-specific patterns of generalization in young children, and the restructuring of conceptual knowledge as a function of experience.

Author affiliations

  1. Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition and Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, 4400 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213-2683, USA.
  2. Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, 15 Chaucer Road, Cambridge CB2 2EF, UK.