Inborn and experience-dependent models of categorical brain organization. A position paper

Guido Gainotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present review aims to summarize the debate in contemporary neuroscience between inborn and experience-dependent models of conceptual representations that goes back to the description of category-specific semantic disorders for biological and artifact categories. Experience-dependent models suggest that categorical disorders are the by-product of the differential weighting of different sources of knowledge in the representation of biological and artifact categories. These models maintain that semantic disorders are not really category-specific, because they do not respect the boundaries between different categories. They also argue that the brain structures which are disrupted in a given type of category-specific semantic disorder should correspond to the areas of convergence of the sensory-motor information which play a major role in the construction of that category. Furthermore, they provide a simple interpretation of gender-related categorical effects and are supported by studies assessing the importance of prior experience in the cortical representation of objects On the other hand, inborn models maintain that category-specific semantic disorders reflect the disruption of innate brain networks, which are shaped by natural selection to allow rapid identification of objects that are very relevant for survival. From the empirical point of view, these models are mainly supported by observations of blind subjects, which suggest that visual experience is not necessary for the emergence of category-specificity in the ventral stream of visual processing. The weight of the data supporting experience-dependent and inborn models is thoroughly discussed, stressing the fact observations made in blind subjects are still the subject of intense debate. It is concluded that at the present state of knowledge it is not possible to choose between experience-dependent and inborn models of conceptual representations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberJAN
Publication statusPublished - Jan 23 2015


  • Ategory-specific semantic disorders
  • Domains of knowledge hypothesis
  • Inborn models of conceptual representations
  • Role of experience in the representation of objects
  • Sensory-motor model of semantic knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Neurology
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Inborn and experience-dependent models of categorical brain organization. A position paper'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this