Body-Specific Representations of Action Verbs: Neural Evidence from Right- and Left-Handers
9 Pages Posted: 3 May 2010 Last revised: 4 May 2010
Date Written: January 10, 2010
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
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