Imagining the truth and the moon: an electrophysiological study of abstract and concrete word processing

Psychophysiology. 2013 May;50(5):431-40. doi: 10.1111/psyp.12033. Epub 2013 Feb 28.


Previous event-related potential studies have indicated that both a widespread N400 and an anterior N700 index differential processing of concrete and abstract words, but the nature of these components in relation to concreteness and imagery has been unclear. Here, we separated the effects of word concreteness and task demands on the N400 and N700 in a single word processing paradigm with a within-subjects, between-tasks design and carefully controlled word stimuli. The N400 was larger to concrete words than to abstract words, and larger in the visualization task condition than in the surface task condition, with no interaction. A marked anterior N700 was elicited only by concrete words in the visualization task condition, suggesting that this component indexes imagery. These findings are consistent with a revised or extended dual coding theory according to which concrete words benefit from greater activation in both verbal and imagistic systems.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reading
  • Young Adult