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Relational Integration in the Human Brain: A Review and Synthesis


Relational integration is required when multiple explicit representations of relations between entities must be jointly considered to make inferences. We provide an overview of the neural substrate of relational integration in humans and the processes that support it, focusing on work on analogical and deductive reasoning. In addition to neural evidence, we consider behavioral and computational work that has informed neural investigations of the representations of individual relations and of relational integration. In very general terms, evidence from neuroimaging, neuropsychological, and neuromodulatory studies points to a small set of regions (generally left lateralized) that appear to constitute key substrates for component processes of relational integration. These include posterior parietal cortex, implicated in the representation of first-order relations (e.g., A:B); rostrolateral pFC, apparently central in integrating first-order relations so as to generate and/or evaluate higher-order relations (e.g., A:B::C:D); dorsolateral pFC, involved in maintaining relations in working memory; and ventrolateral pFC, implicated in interference control (e.g., inhibiting salient information that competes with relevant relations). Recent work has begun to link computational models of relational representation and reasoning with patterns of neural activity within these brain areas.

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