Mice master complex thinking with a remarkable capacity for abstraction

Categorization is the brain’s tool to organize nearly everything we encounter in our daily lives. Grouping information into categories simplifies our complex world and helps us to react quickly and effectively to new experiences. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology have now shown that also mice categorize surprisingly well. The researchers identified neurons encoding learned categories and thereby demonstrated how abstract information is represented at the neuronal level. A toddler is looking at a new picture book. Suddenly it points to an illustration and shouts ‘chair’. The kid made the right call, but that does not seem particularly noteworthy to us. We recognize all kinds of chairs as ‘chair’ without any difficulty. For a toddler, however, this is an enormous learning process. It must associate the chair pictured in the book with the chairs it already knows – even though they may have different shapes or colors. How does the child do that? The answer is…