Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Many features can describe a concept, but only some features define a concept in that they enable discrimination of items that are instances of a concept from (similar) items that are not. We refer to this property of some features as feature diagnosticity. Previous work has described the behavioral effects of feature diagnosticity, but there has been little work on explaining why and how these effects arise. In this study, we aimed to understand the impact of feature diagnosticity on concept representations across two complementary experiments. In Experiment 1, we manipulated the diagnosticity of one feature, color, for a set of novel objects that human participants learned over the course of 1 week. We report behavioral and neural evidence that diagnostic features are likely to be automatically recruited during remembering. Specifically, individuals activated color-selective regions of ventral temporal cortex (specifically, left fusiform gyrus and left inferior temporal gyrus) when thinking about the novel objects, although color information was never explicitly probed during the task. Moreover, multiple behavioral and neural measures of the effects of feature diagnosticity were correlated across participants. In Experiment 2, we examined relative color association in familiar object categories, which varied in feature diagnosticity (fruits and vegetables, household items). Taken together, these results offer novel insights into the neural mechanisms underlying concept representations by demonstrating that automatic recruitment of diagnostic information gives rise to behavioral effects of feature diagnosticity.