N400 Indexing the Motion Concept Shared by Music and Words

Frontiers in Psychology 13 (2022)
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The two event-related potentials studies investigated how verbs and nouns were processed in different music priming conditions in order to reveal whether the motion concept via embodiment can be stimulated and evoked across categories. Study 1 tested the processing of verbs primed by two music types, with tempo changes and without tempo changes while Study 2 tested the processing of nouns in the same priming condition as adopted in Study 1. During the experiments, participants were required to hear a piece of music prior to judging whether an ensuing word is semantically congruent with the motion concept conveyed by the music. The results show that in the priming condition of music with tempo changes, state verbs and inanimate nouns elicited larger N400 amplitudes than action verbs and animate nouns, respectively in the anterior regions and anterior to central regions, whereas in the priming condition of music without tempo changes, action verbs elicited larger N400 amplitudes than state verbs and the two categories of nouns revealed no N400 difference, unexpectedly. The interactions between music and words were significant only in Tasks 1, 2, and 3. Taken together, the results demonstrate that firstly, music with tempo changes and music without tempo prime verbs and nouns in different fashions; secondly, action verbs and animate nouns are easier to process than state verbs and inanimate nouns when primed by music with tempo changes due to the shared motion concept across categories; thirdly, bodily experience differentiates between music and words in coding fashion but the motion concept conveyed by the two categories can be subtly extracted on the metaphorical basis, as indicated in the N400 component. Our studies reveal that music tempos can prime different word classes, favoring the notion that embodied motion concept exists across domains and adding evidence to the hypothesis that music and language share the neural mechanism of meaning processing.



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H. C. B. Liu
University of California, Berkeley

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