Movement priming of EEG/MEG brain responses for action-words characterizes the link between language and action

Cortex. 2016 Jan:74:262-76. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2015.10.021. Epub 2015 Nov 6.


Activation in sensorimotor areas of the brain following perception of linguistic stimuli referring to objects and actions has been interpreted as evidence for strong theories of embodied semantics. Although a large number of studies have demonstrated this "language-to-action" link, important questions about how activation in the sensorimotor system affects language performance ("action-to-language" link) are yet unanswered. As several authors have recently pointed out, the debate should move away from an "embodied or not" focus, and rather aim to characterize the functional contributions of sensorimotor systems to language processing in more detail. For this purpose, we here introduce a novel movement priming paradigm in combination with electro- and magnetoencephalography (EEG/MEG), which allows investigating effects of motor cortex pre-activation on the spatio-temporal dynamics of action-word evoked brain activation. Participants initiated experimental trials by either finger- or foot-movements before executing a two alternative forced choice task employing action-words. We found differential brain activation during the early stages of subsequent hand- and leg-related word processing, respectively, albeit in the absence of behavioral effects. Distributed source estimation based on combined EEG/MEG measurements revealed that congruency effects between effector type used for response initiation (hand or foot) and action-word category (hand- or foot-related) occurred not only in motor cortex, but also in a classical language comprehension area, posterior superior temporal cortex, already 150 msec after the visual presentation of the word stimulus. This suggests that pre-activation of hand- and leg-motor networks may differentially facilitate the ignition of semantic cell assemblies for hand- and leg-related words, respectively. Our results demonstrate the usefulness of movement priming in combination with neuroimaging to functionally characterize the link between language and sensorimotor systems.

Keywords: Embodiment; Motor cortex; Semantic somatotopy; Semantics; Word recognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Comprehension / physiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Young Adult