Activation of Sensory-Motor Areas in Sentence Comprehension

Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI 53226, USA.
Cerebral Cortex (Impact Factor: 8.67). 07/2009; 20(2):468-78. DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhp115
Source: PubMed


The sensory-motor account of conceptual processing suggests that modality-specific attributes play a central role in the organization of object and action knowledge in the brain. An opposing view emphasizes the abstract, amodal, and symbolic character of concepts, which are thought to be represented outside the brain's sensory-motor systems. We conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging study in which the participants listened to sentences describing hand/arm action events, visual events, or abstract behaviors. In comparison to visual and abstract sentences, areas associated with planning and control of hand movements, motion perception, and vision were activated when understanding sentences describing actions. Sensory-motor areas were activated to a greater extent also for sentences with actions that relied mostly on hands, as opposed to arms. Visual sentences activated a small area in the secondary visual cortex, whereas abstract sentences activated superior temporal and inferior frontal regions. The results support the view that linguistic understanding of actions partly involves imagery or simulation of actions, and relies on some of the same neural substrate used for planning, performing, and perceiving actions.

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Available from: Mark S. Seidenberg
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    • "Interestingly, by comparing cortical activation during Theory of Mind (TOM) vs. exogeneous Attention tasks in normal and autistic subjects , Scholz et al. (2009) have located a specific TOM related region in the parieto-temporal cortical regions whose ventral part overlaps bilaterally with our parieto-temporal clusters (Dufour et al., 2013; Scholz et al., 2009). Recently, evidence has been provided that action related knowledge can be provided not only by action observation but also by hearing action or even by understanding sentences describing actions (Desai et al., 2010; Kohler et al., 2002; Tettamanti et al., 2005). Based on these observations, it is likely that our visuo-motor activations in the precentral gyrus and visual associative parietal cortex reflect the implication of such an observation-execution mirror system involved in the understanding of actions evoked during either verbal or nonverbal tasks. "
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    • "Evidence in support of this proposal is multifaceted (for review see Borghi and Binkofski, 2014). Brain imaging studies demonstrated greater engagement of the verbal system for processing of abstract concepts and greater engagement of the perceptual and motor system for concrete concepts (e.g., Binder et al., 2005; Sabsevitz et al., 2005; Rüschemeyer et al., 2007; Desai et al., 2010; Sakreida et al., 2013), and behavioral research has shown a high cross-linguistic variability with abstract words (e.g., Boroditsky, 2011). Notably, acquisition evidence has shown that the process of acquisition of the two kinds of words might differ (e.g., Wauters et al., 2003; Borghi et al., 2011). "
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    • "). Finally, some studies suggest that action language engages visual networks in addition to motor networks, eliciting activations in areas, which are engaged during the visual processing of body movements (Desai et al., 2010; Rueschemeyer et al., 2010; Wallentin, Lund, Ostergaard, Ostergaard, & Roepstorff, 2005). "
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