Research Topic

Abstract Concepts: Neurodevelopmental and Neuropsychological Perspectives

About this Research Topic

A longstanding interdisciplinary research program in the psychological and brain sciences investigates how abstract and concrete concepts are distinctly represented in the brain. Although the distinction between abstract and concrete concepts has been hard to pin down, it can be roughly characterized by differences in the perceptibility of their referents. When compared to concrete concepts, abstract concepts tend to refer to entities or events that are harder to perceive with our senses or harder to manipulate directly with our actions. Abstract concepts typically involve more complex relations, introspective features, or social interactions; and exhibit greater variability across contexts.

Given the recent interest in the role that embodiment may play in cognition, questions concerning how the brain encodes and processes abstract concepts have taken on a renewed urgency. In keeping with this recent research focus, there have been a number of studies investigating the role that action, emotion, interoception, and motor systems might play in abstract concept acquisition and processing. Most of this research has focused on neurotypical adult participants, whereas only a few studies have focused on other cohorts and populations, such as on individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders.

This Research Topic aims to address this lacuna. We are hoping to bring together empirical and theoretical work on abstract concepts (or some important subclass of them such as number concepts or those relating to theory of mind) from diverse neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological perspectives. We invite contributions that address several questions:

1. How is the acquisition and processing of abstract concepts affected by unusual developmental circumstances or neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological disorders? For example, how may the acquisition of abstract concepts be affected by circumscribed linguistic input such as that experienced by deaf children raised by non-signing parents? What is the developmental course of abstract concepts in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Linguistic Impairment, or Williams Syndrome? What should we conclude (or not conclude) from the presence of reverse concreteness in a subset of patients with Semantic Aphasia or Semantic Dementia?

2. In which way may neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological research on abstract concept acquisition transform our understanding of concepts generally?

3. How might this research play a role in assessing cognitive abilities and lead to interventions that might help individuals in clinical or educational settings?

Submissions are sought from any of the major disciplines associated with cognitive science, including but not necessarily limited to anthropology, cognitive psychology, computational modeling, linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy, psycholinguistics, and social psychology. Researchers are encouraged to submit papers discussing experiments, methods, models, or theories that speak to how abstract concepts are acquired and processed under various circumstances.


Keywords: Concepts, Semantics, Memory, Embodied Cognition, Language


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

A longstanding interdisciplinary research program in the psychological and brain sciences investigates how abstract and concrete concepts are distinctly represented in the brain. Although the distinction between abstract and concrete concepts has been hard to pin down, it can be roughly characterized by differences in the perceptibility of their referents. When compared to concrete concepts, abstract concepts tend to refer to entities or events that are harder to perceive with our senses or harder to manipulate directly with our actions. Abstract concepts typically involve more complex relations, introspective features, or social interactions; and exhibit greater variability across contexts.

Given the recent interest in the role that embodiment may play in cognition, questions concerning how the brain encodes and processes abstract concepts have taken on a renewed urgency. In keeping with this recent research focus, there have been a number of studies investigating the role that action, emotion, interoception, and motor systems might play in abstract concept acquisition and processing. Most of this research has focused on neurotypical adult participants, whereas only a few studies have focused on other cohorts and populations, such as on individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders.

This Research Topic aims to address this lacuna. We are hoping to bring together empirical and theoretical work on abstract concepts (or some important subclass of them such as number concepts or those relating to theory of mind) from diverse neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological perspectives. We invite contributions that address several questions:

1. How is the acquisition and processing of abstract concepts affected by unusual developmental circumstances or neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological disorders? For example, how may the acquisition of abstract concepts be affected by circumscribed linguistic input such as that experienced by deaf children raised by non-signing parents? What is the developmental course of abstract concepts in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Linguistic Impairment, or Williams Syndrome? What should we conclude (or not conclude) from the presence of reverse concreteness in a subset of patients with Semantic Aphasia or Semantic Dementia?

2. In which way may neurodevelopmental and neuropsychological research on abstract concept acquisition transform our understanding of concepts generally?

3. How might this research play a role in assessing cognitive abilities and lead to interventions that might help individuals in clinical or educational settings?

Submissions are sought from any of the major disciplines associated with cognitive science, including but not necessarily limited to anthropology, cognitive psychology, computational modeling, linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy, psycholinguistics, and social psychology. Researchers are encouraged to submit papers discussing experiments, methods, models, or theories that speak to how abstract concepts are acquired and processed under various circumstances.


Keywords: Concepts, Semantics, Memory, Embodied Cognition, Language


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 July 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 July 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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