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Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2008 Sep;8(3):318-28.

Cortical regions activated by the subjective sense of perceptual coherence of environmental sounds: a proposal for a neuroscience of intuition.

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  • 1Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research, Cologne, Germany.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, intuition is "the ability to understand or know something immediately, without conscious reasoning." In other words, people continuously, without conscious attention, recognize patterns in the stream of sensations that impinge upon them. The result is a vague perception of coherence, which subsequently biases thought and behavior accordingly. Within the visual domain, research using paradigms with difficult recognition has suggested that the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) serves as a fast detector and predictor of potential content that utilizes coarse facets of the input. To investigate whether the OFC is crucial in biasing task-specific processing, and hence subserves intuitive judgments in various modalities, we used a difficult-recognition paradigm in the auditory domain. Participants were presented with short sequences of distorted, nonverbal, environmental sounds and had to perform a sound categorization task. Imaging results revealed rostral medial OFC activation for such auditory intuitive coherence judgments. By means of a conjunction analysis between the present results and those from a previous study on visual intuitive coherence judgments, the rostral medial OFC was shown to be activated via both modalities. We conclude that rostral OFC activation during intuitive coherence judgments subserves the detection of potential content on the basis of only coarse facets of the input.

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