The human brain is adept at recognizing similar items and placing them into categories — for example, dog versus cat, or chair versus table. In a new study, MIT neuroscientists have identified the brain activity that appears to control this skill.
The findings, published in the July 27 issue of the journal Neuron, suggest a potential explanation for why autistic children focus intently on details, but often seem unable to group things into broad categories, says Earl Miller, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience and senior author of the paper.
“We think what may happen in autism is the system may get out of balance … and as a result, the details overwhelm the category. Then you have a brain that’s not only too good at memorizing details, it can’t help but memorize the details,” says Miller, a principal investigator at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT.