Here's a paper that shows us how the brain abstracts and makes new rules. The area that appears to be essential is the prefrontal cortex, or that thinking spot so important to Pooh and self-reflective thinkers.
Rule-based learning has a developmental course (no big surprise), but what is a little surprising is the degree to which 12 year olds lag young adults in tests requiring them to make new rules.
fMRI of Abstraction pdf
Eide Neurolearning Blog: The Examined Life: Cultivating Self-Reflection and the Return of Socratic Thinking
Development of Rule-Based Category Learning
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