Body-Specific Representations of Action Verbs: Neural Evidence from Right- and Left-Handers

9 Pages Posted: 3 May 2010 Last revised: 4 May 2010

See all articles by Roel M. Willems

Roel M. Willems

Radboud University Nijmegen - Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging; University of California, Berkeley - Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute

Peter Hagoort

Radboud University Nijmegen - Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging; Max Planck Society for the Advancement of the Sciences - Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Daniel Casasanto

The New School for Social Research

Date Written: January 10, 2010

Abstract

According to theories of embodied cognition, understanding a verb like throw involves unconsciously simulating the action of throwing, using areas of the brain that support motor planning. If understanding action words involves mentally simulating one’s own actions, then the neurocognitive representation of word meanings should differ for people with different kinds of bodies, who perform actions in systematically different ways. In a test of the body-specificity hypothesis, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare premotor activity correlated with action verb understanding in right- and left-handers. Right-handers preferentially activated the left premotor cortex during lexical decisions on manual-action verbs (compared with nonmanual-action verbs), whereas left-handers preferentially activated right premotor areas. This finding helps refine theories of embodied semantics, suggesting that implicit mental simulation during language processing is body specific: Right- and left-handers, who perform actions differently, use correspondingly different areas of the brain for representing action verb meanings.

Keywords: body-specificity hypothesis, fMRI, handedness, semantics

Suggested Citation

Willems, Roel M. and Hagoort, Peter and Casasanto, Daniel, Body-Specific Representations of Action Verbs: Neural Evidence from Right- and Left-Handers (January 10, 2010). Psychological Science. Vol. 21, No. 1, pp, 67-74, 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1598485

Roel M. Willems

Radboud University Nijmegen - Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging

Postbus 9108
Nijmegen, 6500 HK
Netherlands

University of California, Berkeley - Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute

310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

Peter Hagoort

Radboud University Nijmegen - Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging

Postbus 9108
Nijmegen, 6500 HK
Netherlands

Max Planck Society for the Advancement of the Sciences - Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

1 Wundtlaan
Nijmegen, 6525 AH
Netherlands

Daniel Casasanto (Contact Author)

The New School for Social Research ( email )

6 East 16th Street
New York, NY 10003
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.casasanto.com

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