Where is the action? Action sentence processing in Parkinson's disease

Department of Neurology, Medical College of Wisconsin. Electronic address: .
Neuropsychologia (Impact Factor: 3.3). 04/2013; 51(8). DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013.04.008
Source: PubMed


According to an influential view of conceptual representation, action concepts are understood through motoric simulations, involving motor networks of the brain. A stronger version of this embodied account suggests that even figurative uses of action words (e.g., grasping the concept) are understood through motoric simulations. We investigated these claims by assessing whether Parkinson's disease (PD), a disorder affecting the motor system, is associated with selective deficits in comprehending action-related sentences. Twenty PD patients and 21 age-matched controls performed a sentence comprehension task, where sentences belonged to one of four conditions: literal action, non-idiomatic metaphoric action, idiomatic action, and abstract. The same verbs (referring to hand/arm actions) were used in the three action-related conditions. Patients, but not controls, were slower to respond to literal and idiomatic action than to abstract sentences. These results indicate that sensory-motor systems play a functional role in semantic processing, including processing of figurative action language.

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Available from: Leonardo Fernandino
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    • "This embodiment of language in action has been reported in healthy elderly adults (Dijkstra et al., 2004), as well as in patients with AD (De Scalzi et al., 2014) since they rely on the necessary simulation of the motor components involved in language to understand it. It may also explain how motor impairments in PD are associated with altered language comprehension of literal and symbolic action related/based sentences (Fernandino et al., 2013). "
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    • "The participants were asked to indicate as quickly and as accurately as possible whether the target was a word or not by pressing one of two response buttons. The participants were given four seconds to respond (which differs from Fernandino et al. (2013b), who provided unlimited time for response), after which the next trial started and a missing response was recorded. The prime was the same as the target word/pseudoword in capital letters for half of the stimuli (identity prime), and a consonant string also in capital letters for the other half (consonant string prime) as control. "
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    • "It should be noted that a supporter of an amodal approach might take the findings of decreased activation with fictive and metaphoric contexts as supporting their claim that sensorimotor activation during conceptual tasks is epiphenomenal. The possible need for a more nuanced solution to the problem of flexibility is suggested by a recent study comparing patients with Parkinson's disease to age-matched controls, which showed a selective impairment for the semantic processing of literal action sentences and idiomatic action sentences, but no impairment for the semantic processing of nonidiomatic metaphoric action sentences and abstract sentences (Fernandino et al., 2013). This research on metaphor highlights how the problem of flexibility might apply to a particular domain, but it is not the only research area where this pattern emerges. "
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