This paper reviews some controversies concerning the original and revised versions of the 'hub-and-spoke' model of conceptual representations and their implication for abstraction capacity levels. The 'hub-and-spoke' model, which is based on data gathered in patients with semantic dementia (SD), is the most authoritative model of conceptual knowledge. Patterson et al.'s (Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 8(12), 976-987, 2007) classical version of this model maintained that conceptual representations are stored in a unitary 'amodal' format in the right and left anterior temporal lobes (ATLs), because in SD the semantic disorder cuts across modalities and categories. Several authors questioned the unitary nature of these representations. They showed that the semantic impairment is 'multi-modal'only in the advanced stages of SD, when atrophy affects the ATLs bilaterally, but that impariments can be modality-specific in lateralised (early) stages of the disease. In these cases, SD mainly affects lexical-semantic knowledge when atrophy predominates on the left side and pictorial representations when atrophy prevails on the right side. Some aspects of the model (i.e. the importance of spokes, the multimodal format of representations and the graded convergence of modalities within the ATLs), which had already been outlined by Rogers et al. (Psychological Review, 111(1), 205-235, 2004) in a computational model of SD, were strengthened by these results. The relevance of these theoretical problems and of empirical data concerning the neural substrate of concrete and abstract words is discussed critically. The conclusion of the review is that the highest levels of abstraction are due more to the structuring influence of language than to the format of representations.
- Journal Article