The language of future-thought: an fMRI study of embodiment and tense processing

Neuroimage. 2013 Jan 15;65:267-79. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.09.073. Epub 2012 Oct 11.


The ability to comprehend and represent the temporal properties of an occurrence is a crucial aspect of human language and cognition. Despite advances in neurolinguistic research into semantic processing, surprisingly little is known regarding the mechanisms which support the comprehension of temporal semantics. We used fMRI to investigate neural activity associated with processing of concrete and abstract sentences across the three temporal categories: past, present, and future. Theories of embodied cognition predict that concreteness-related activity would be evident in sensory and motor areas regardless of tense. Contrastingly, relying upon construal level theory we hypothesized that: (1) the neural markers associated with concrete language processing would appear for past and present tense sentences, but not for future sentences; (2) future tense sentences would activate intention-processing areas. Consistent with our first prediction, the results showed that activation in the parahippocampal gyrus differentiated between concrete and abstract sentences for past and present tense sentences, but not for future sentences. Not consistent with our second prediction, future tense sentences did not activate most of the regions that are implicated in the processing of intentions, but only activated the vmPFC. We discuss the implications of the current results to theories of embodied cognition and tense semantics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Semantics*
  • Time*
  • Young Adult