Imagine that! ERPs provide evidence for distinct hemispheric contributions to the processing of concrete and abstract concepts

Neuroimage. 2010 Jan 1;49(1):1116-23. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.07.031. Epub 2009 Jul 22.


Although abstract and concrete concepts are processed and remembered differently, the underlying nature of those differences remains in dispute. The current study used visual half-field (VF) presentation methods and event-related potential (ERP) measures to examine how the left (LH) and right (RH) cerebral hemispheres process concrete and abstract meanings of polysemous nouns (e.g., "green book," referring to the concrete, physical object that is a book, versus "engaging book," referring to the abstract information that a book conveys). With presentation to the right VF, nouns preceded by concrete modifiers were associated with more positivity on the P2 and N400, suggesting that concrete concepts were easier for the LH to process perceptually and semantically. In contrast, with presentation to the left VF (RH), nouns used in a concrete sense elicited a sustained frontal negativity (500-900 ms) that has been previously linked to imagery. The results thus reveal multiple, distinct neural and cognitive sources for concreteness effects and point to a critical role for the RH in linking language input to sensory imagery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reading
  • Visual Fields / physiology
  • Young Adult