Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Neuron Doctrine

That individual neurons may be described as detecting trigger features, or in other words as being “grandmother cells”, has led some to endorse a neuron doctrine for perceptual psychology.  This doctrine has the goal of discovering the trigger features for all neurons (Barlow, 1972, 1995).  This is because “a description of that activity of a single nerve cell which is transmitted to and influences other nerve cells, and of a nerve cell’s response to such influences from other cells, is a complete enough description for functional understanding of the nervous system” (p. 380).

The validity of the neuron doctrine is a controversial issue (Bowers, 2009; Gross, 2002).  Regardless, there is a possibility that identifying trigger features can help interpret the internal workings of artificial neural networks.


  1. Barlow, H. B. (1972). Single units and sensation:  A neuron doctrine for perceptual psychology? Perception, 1, 371-394.
  2. Barlow, H. B. (1995). The neuron doctrine in perception. In M. S. Gazzaniga (Ed.), The Cognitive Neurosciences (pp. 415-435). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  3. Bowers, J. S. (2009). On the biological plausibility of grandmother cells: Implications for neural network theories in psychology and neuroscience. Psychological Review, 116(1), 220-251.
  4. Gross, C. G. (2002). Genealogy of the "grandmother cell". Neuroscientist, 8(5), 512-518.

(Added April 2011)