An electrophysiological study of task demands on concreteness effects: evidence for dual coding theory

Exp Brain Res. 2011 Jul;212(3):347-58. doi: 10.1007/s00221-011-2734-8. Epub 2011 Jun 9.


We examined ERP responses during the generation of word associates or mental images in response to concrete and abstract concepts. Of interest were the predictions of dual coding theory (DCT), which proposes that processing lexical concepts depends on functionally independent but interconnected verbal and nonverbal systems. ERP responses were time-locked to either stimulus onset or response to compensate for potential latency differences across conditions. During word associate generation, but not mental imagery, concrete items elicited a greater N400 than abstract items. A concreteness effect emerged at a later time point during the mental imagery task. Data were also analyzed using time-frequency analysis that investigated synchronization of neuronal populations over time during processing. Concrete words elicited an enhanced late going desynchronization of theta-band power (723-938 ms post stimulus onset) during associate generation. During mental imagery, abstract items elicited greater delta-band power from 800 to 1,000 ms following stimulus onset, theta-band power from 350 to 205 ms before response, and alpha-band power from 900 to 800 ms before response. Overall, the findings support DCT in suggesting that lexical concepts are not amodal and that concreteness effects are modulated by tasks that focus participants on verbal versus nonverbal, imagery-based knowledge.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Association
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / physiology