Dissociable electrophysiological correlates of semantic access of motor and non-motor concepts

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The notion of semantic embodiment posits that concepts are represented in the same neural sensorimotor systems that were involved in their acquisition. However, evidence in support of embodied semantics – in particular the hypothesised contribution of motor and premotor cortex to the representation of action concepts – is varied. Here, we tested the hypothesis that, consistent with semantic embodiment, sensorimotor cortices will rapidly become active while healthy participants access the meaning of visually-presented motor and non-motor action verbs. Event-related potentials revealed early differential processing of motor and non- motor verbs (164-203ms) within distinct regions of cortex likely reflecting rapid cortical activation of differentially distributed semantic representations. However, we found no evidence for a specific role of sensorimotor cortices in supporting these representations. Moreover, we observed a later modulation of the alpha band (8-12Hz) from 555-785ms over central electrodes, with estimated generators within the left superior parietal lobule, which may reflect post-lexical activation of the object-directed features of the motor action concepts. In conclusion, we find no evidence for a specific role of sensorimotor cortices when healthy participants judge the meaning of visually-presented action verbs. However, the relative contribution of sensorimotor cortices to action comprehension may vary as a function of task goals.


Original languageEnglish
Article number11482
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2019

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