Auditory and action semantic features activate sensory-specific perceptual brain regions

Curr Biol. 2003 Oct 14;13(20):1792-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2003.09.039.


Traditionally, concepts were considered propositional, amodal, and verbal in nature (for review, see ). Recent findings, however, suggest that conceptual knowledge is divisible into different types (L. Wu and L.W. Barsalou, personal communication, ) and that each type may be linked to specific sensory and motor processes. This implies that sensory processing regions of the brain may also process concepts. In fact, there is some neuroimaging evidence that conceptual information does activate perceptual brain regions and that there is a correspondence between knowledge type and the region being activated. In the following experiment, using a training technique developed in previous studies, participants verbally learned associations between novel objects and conceptual features. The objective was to create objects that were associated with features from only one knowledge type, something that does not occur with common objects. During a visual task that did not require retrieval of learned associations, the superior temporal gyrus, which responds well to sounds, was preferentially activated by objects associated with auditory features (e.g., buzzes). Likewise, the posterior superior temporal sulcus, which responds well to motion, was preferentially activated by objects associated with "action" features (e.g., hops). These findings support the theory that knowledge is grounded in perception.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Knowledge
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*