Article: Counterfactuals in action: An fMRI study of counterfactual sentences describing physical effort.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Counterfactual statements such as if Mary had cleaned the room, she would have moved the sofa convey both actual and hypothetical actions, namely, that Mary did not clean the room or move the sofa, but she would have done so in some possible past situation. Such statements are ubiquitous in daily life and are involved in critical cognitive activities like decision-making and evaluation of alternative outcomes. Here, we investigate the brain mechanisms and the nature of the semantic representations involved in understanding the complex meaning of counterfactual statements. We used fMRI to examine brain responses to counterfactual statements describing actions of high and low physical effort and compared them to similar factual statements describing the same actions. Results indicated that the inferior parietal lobule, known to support planning of object-directed actions, responded more strongly to high-effort than low-effort statements. Moreover, counterfactual statements, compared to factual ones, recruited a distinctive neural network partially overlapping with action execution networks. This network included medial pre-motor and pre-frontal structures, which underpin selection and inhibition of alternative action representations, and parahippocampal and temporal regions, involved in retrieving episodic memories. We argue that counterfactual comprehension recruit action-related networks encoding and managing alternative representations of behaviors.Neuropsychologia 09/2012; · 3.64 Impact Factor
Article: Understanding counterfactuals in discourse modulates ERP and oscillatory gamma rhythms in the EEG.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: This study provides ERP and oscillatory dynamics data associated with the comprehension of narratives involving counterfactual events. Participants were given short stories describing an initial situation ("Marta wanted to plant flowers in her garden…."), followed by a critical sentence describing a new situation in either a factual ("Since she found a spade, she started to dig a hole") or counterfactual format ("If she had found a spade, she would have started to dig a hole"), and then a continuation sentence that was either related to the initial situation ("she bought a spade") or to the new one ("she planted roses"). The ERPs recorded for the continuation sentences related to the initial situation showed larger negativity after factuals than after counterfactuals, suggesting that the counterfactual's presupposition - the events did not occur - prevents updating the here-and-now of discourse. By contrast, continuation sentences related to the new situation elicited similar ERPs under both factual and counterfactual contexts, suggesting that counterfactuals also activate momentarily an alternative "as if" meaning. However, the reduction of gamma power following counterfactuals, suggests that the "as if" meaning is not integrated into the discourse, nor does it contribute to semantic unification processes.Brain research 03/2012; 1455:40-55. · 2.46 Impact Factor
Article: Counterfactual sentences activate embodied meaning: An action–sentence compatibility effect studyManuel de Vega, Mabel Urrutia[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Recent evidence suggests that understanding factual action-related sentences involves embodied simulations. But, what happens with counterfactual sentences that describe hypothetical events in the past? This study demonstrates that even in this case embodied simulations of actions take place. Participants listened to factual or counterfactual sentences describing a transfer away from or towards them. After the transfer verb (e.g., gave) was received, either a motion cue (Exp. 1) or a static cue (Exp. 2) prompted participants to move their finger towards or away from them to press a button. Finger motion was initially interfered with in cases involving a concurrent matching sentence (e.g., transfer away-motion away), suggesting that counterfactual meaning involves a motor simulation or “resonance”. The temporal course of this resonance differs slightly between factual and counterfactual sentences.JOURNAL OF COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY. 12/2011; 23(8):962-973.
Article: The comprehension of action-related sentences may cause interference rather than facilitation on matching actions.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: This study used a dual-task paradigm to analyze the time course of motor resonance during the comprehension of action language. In the study, participants read sentences describing a transfer either away from ("I threw the tennis ball to my rival") or toward themselves ("My rival threw me the tennis ball"). When the transfer verb appeared on the screen, and after a variable stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA), a visual motion cue (Experiment 1) or a static cue (Experiment 2) prompted participants to move their hand either away from or toward themselves to press a button. The results showed meaning-action interference at short SOAs and facilitation at the longest SOA for the matching conditions. These results support the hypothesis that motor processes associated with the comprehension of action-related language interfere with an overlapping motor task, whereas they facilitate a delayed motor task. These effects are discussed in terms of resonance processes in the motor cortex.Psychological Research 07/2011; · 2.47 Impact Factor
Eduardo Santana, Manuel de Vega[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: This study investigates whether understanding up/down metaphors as well as semantically homologous literal sentences activates embodied representations online. Participants read orientational literal sentences (e.g., she climbed up the hill), metaphors (e.g., she climbed up in the company), and abstract sentences with similar meaning to the metaphors (e.g., she succeeded in the company). In Experiments 1 and 2, participants were asked to perform a speeded upward or downward hand motion while they were reading the sentence verb. The hand motion either matched or mismatched the direction connoted by the sentence. The results showed a meaning-action effect for metaphors and literals, that is, faster hand motion responses in the matching conditions. Notably, the matching advantage was also found for homologous abstract sentences, indicating that some abstract ideas are conceptually organized in the vertical dimension, even when they are expressed by means of literal sentences. In Experiment 3, participants responded to an upward or downward visual motion associated with the sentence verb by pressing a single key. In this case, the facilitation effect for matching visual motion-sentence meaning faded, indicating that the visual motion component is less important than the action component in conceptual metaphors. Most up and down metaphors convey emotionally positive and negative information, respectively. We suggest that metaphorical meaning elicits upward/downward movements because they are grounded on the bodily expression of the corresponding emotions.Frontiers in psychology. 01/2011; 2:90.