Category-based induction from similarity of neural activation

Matthew J. Weber, Daniel Osherson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The idea that similarity might be an engine of inductive inference dates back at least as far as David Hume. However, Hume's thesis is difficult to test without begging the question, since judgments of similarity may be infected by inferential processes. We present a one-parameter model of category-based induction that generates predictions about arbitrary statements of conditional probability over a predicate and a set of items. The prediction is based on the unconditional probabilities and similarities that characterize that predicate and those items. To test Hume's thesis, we collected brain activation from various regions of the ventral visual stream during a categorization task that did not invite comparison of categories. We then calculated the similarity of those activation patterns using a simple measure of vectorwise similarity and supplied those similarities to the model. The model's outputs correlated well with subjects' judgments of conditional probability. Our results represent a promising first step toward confirming Hume's thesis; similarity, assessed without reference to induction, may well drive inductive inference.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-36
Number of pages13
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Similarity
  • categorization
  • fMRI
  • induction
  • multivariate pattern analysis
  • semantics


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