Brain and Language Lab

Subcortical Cognition

We are interested in subcortical contributions to cognition. Till now, cognitive neuroscience has emphasized cerebral cortex, especially for higher-level domains such as language, reading, music, and math. Cortex is clearly critical for higher cognition. But do subcortical structures also play substantial roles? Certain structures, such as the basal ganglia, have been implicated in some higher domains in addition to lower-level functions (e.g., learning, attention). However, much greater subcortical involvement in cognition might be expected for both anatomical and evolutionary reasons, including the sheer number of structures, their connectivity, and the principle of cooptation. Nevertheless, known and potential subcortical contributions to (a)typical higher cognition have been under-acknowledged. In a new paper (Janacsek et al., 2022), we highlight this gap, discuss causes of this subcortical neglect, review the evidence to-date for subcortical cognition, suggest how to expand this structure-function map based on cooptation, and present methods appropriate for probing subcortical cognition. Overall, the paper aims to advance cognitive neuroscience by highlighting subcortical cognition and facilitating its future investigation.


Janacsek, K., Evans, T. M., Kiss, M., Shah, L., Blumenfeld H., & Ullman, M. T. (2022). Subcortical cognition: the fruit below the rind. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 45, 361–86. (Supplemental Materials).