Kathryn Carpenter
PhD student


Research projects

Project Title: The neurobiological pathways of category learning

Supervisors: Dr Fraser Milton, Prof Frederick Verbruggen

Funding Body: ESRC DTC 3

Project Description: Category learning is the ability humans have to separate new stimuli into semantically meaningful groups – for example our ancestors knowing whether a certain berry would be poisonous, or nowadays a student driver learning to read the signs on the road.

The COmpetition between Verbal and Implicit Systems (COVIS) account (Ashby et al., 1998) is one of the most researched models of category learning and is assumes that there are two separable and competing systems: an explicit system which learns through verbal thought and an implicit system which learns procedurally. This model not only makes strong behavioural predictions about how different categories will be learnt in different conditions, but also has a neurobiological basis that has been supported by Nomura et al. (2007).

However, the work of Milton and Pothos (2011) suggest that the systems responsible for category learning are overlapping. Extensive neural activation overlap was found in conditions predicted by COVIS to tap into either the explicit or implicit system. A purely implicit system was not found and areas involved in conscious thought and memory were activated in both conditions. Throughout my PhD I aim to investigate this discrepancy in the research field and I aim to use various methods to contribute to this debate in a controlled and unbiased way.

I also want to get a more integrated understanding of category learning phenomena, so am using tDCS and fMRI to investigate the prototype effect - an averaging of all seen stimuli which aids in future categorization. I am focusing on the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex which has been implied to be used to abstract averages from perceived stimuli. By adding this strand to my research I aim to broaden my understanding of category learning as a whole and expand my knowledge of the neurobiology of this learning beyond the conditions used in COVIS research.


April 2014 – EPS conference; Kent

June 2015 – OHBM Annual conference; Honolulu – Poster presentation

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