Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Distributed Representation

A distributed representation is a concept that is central to connectionism. In a connectionist network, a distributed representation occurs when some concept or meaning is represented by the network, but that meaning is represented by a pattern of activity across a number of processing units (Hinton et al, 1986). In other words, the meaning is not locally represented by a single unit that is analogous to a "grandmother cell".

One advantage of distributed representations is that they provide damage resistance and graceful degradation (Medler et al., 2005). A disadvantage of such representations is that they make the internal structure of a trained network very difficult to interpret (Dawson, 2004).


  1. Dawson, M. R. W. (2004). Minds And Machines : Connectionism And Psychological Modeling. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.
  2. Hinton, G. E., McClelland, J., & Rumelhart, D. (1986). Distributed representations. In D. Rumelhart & J. McClelland (Eds.), Parallel Distributed Processing (Vol. 1, pp. 77-109). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  3. Medler, D. A., Dawson, M. R. W., & Kingstone, A. (2005). Functional localization and double dissociations: The relationship between internal structure and behavior. Brain and Cognition, 57, 146-150.

(Added November 2009)