Flexibility in Embodied Language Processing: Context Effects in Lexical Access

Topics in Cognitive Science 6 (3):407-424 (2014)
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Abstract

According to embodied theories of language (ETLs), word meaning relies on sensorimotor brain areas, generally dedicated to acting and perceiving in the real world. More specifically, words denoting actions are postulated to make use of neural motor areas, while words denoting visual properties draw on the resources of visual brain areas. Therefore, there is a direct correspondence between word meaning and the experience a listener has had with a word's referent on the brain level. Behavioral and neuroimaging studies have provided evidence in favor of ETLs; however, recent studies have also shown that sensorimotor information is recruited in a flexible manner during language comprehension (e.g., Raposo et al. ; Van Dam et al., ), leaving open the question as to what level of language processing sensorimotor activations contribute. In this study, we investigated the time course of modality‐specific contributions (i.e., the contribution of action information) as to word processing by manipulating both (a) the linguistic and (b) the action context in which target words were presented. Our results demonstrate that processes reflecting sensorimotor information play a role early in word processing (i.e., within 200 ms of word presentation), but that they are sensitive to the linguistic context in which a word is presented. In other words, when sensorimotor information is activated, it is activated quickly; however, specific words do not reliably activate a consistent sensorimotor pattern.

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