How do conceptual representations interact with processing demands: An fMRI study on action- and abstract-related words

Brain Res. 2014 Dec 3:1591:38-52. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2014.10.008. Epub 2014 Oct 14.


This fMRI study investigated the functional mechanisms related to mental simulation of abstract- and action-related words and measured the effect of the type of stimulus (Abstract vs. action verbs) and the type of task (imagery vs. control task) to explore how conceptual representations interact with processing demands. A significant task by stimuli interaction showed that action-related words activated the left sensorimotor cortex during explicit imagery (as compared to the control task), whereas abstract-related verbs did not automatically activate this area. Rather, as we made sure that Abstract verbs were not associated with motor states (as tested in a rating study of our stimulus list), imagery elicited by abstract verb processing (as compared to Action verbs, and controlled for letter detection) differentially activated a right hemisphere neural network including the right supramarginal (SMG) gyrus and the precuneus which might be related to mental imagery of emotion-related scenes and not to the semantics of the stimuli per se. Our results confirmed the view that the activation of the sensorimotor cortex during language processing of abstract- and action-related words is strategy-dependent.

Keywords: Cognitive Strategies; Mental imagery; Word representations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time
  • Reading*
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology*
  • Young Adult