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Art of Classifying Information in Mice:

  • Uncategorized
  • Aug 04, 2021

Categorization is the brain's tool to organize almost everything that we encounter in our daily life. Grouping information into categories simplifies the complexities and helps us react quickly and effectively to new experiences.

Sandra Reinert and Pieter Goltstein, together with Mark Hübener and Tobias Bonhoeffer, group leader and director of the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology, examined how the brain stores abstract information as learned categories. Since this is difficult to study in humans, the scientists tested whether mice classify similarly to ours. To do this, they showed the mice different pictures of stripe patterns and gave them a classification rule. One group of animals had to divide the pictures into two categories based on the thickness of the stripes; the other group of mice could learn the respective rule and reliably classify the patterns in the correct category.  The results have shown that mice also categorize surprisingly well. Neurons learn categories through codes and demonstrate how abstract information is represented on a neural level. For instance, a young boy is looking at a new picture book and suddenly he points to an illustration and yells chair.. Adult can easily recognize all types of chairs, but this is a tremendous learning curve for a young child. To associate the chair shown in the book with the chairs you already know, even though they may be of different shapes or colors, you will need help of categorization, a fundamental element of our thinking.

Sandra Reinert, first author of the study, explains that every time a child finds a chair, it saves the experience. Because of the similarities between the chairs, the child's brain abstracts the properties and chair functions that make up the chair category. This allows the child to quickly associate new chairs with the category and the knowledge it contains.

Our brain is constantly categorizing all information at a certain age and it tries to simplify and organize our world. Without categorization, we would not be able to interact with our environment as efficiently as we do. In other words, we would have to learn that we can sit in it for every new chair we find. Therefore, the classification of sensory information is essential for us, but the underlying processes in the brain are largely unknown.