Time to Face Language: Embodied Mechanisms Underpin the Inception of Face-Related Meanings in the Human Brain

Cereb Cortex. 2020 Oct 1;30(11):6051-6068. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhaa178.


In construing meaning, the brain recruits multimodal (conceptual) systems and embodied (modality-specific) mechanisms. Yet, no consensus exists on how crucial the latter are for the inception of semantic distinctions. To address this issue, we combined electroencephalographic (EEG) and intracranial EEG (iEEG) to examine when nouns denoting facial body parts (FBPs) and nonFBPs are discriminated in face-processing and multimodal networks. First, FBP words increased N170 amplitude (a hallmark of early facial processing). Second, they triggered fast (~100 ms) activity boosts within the face-processing network, alongside later (~275 ms) effects in multimodal circuits. Third, iEEG recordings from face-processing hubs allowed decoding ~80% of items before 200 ms, while classification based on multimodal-network activity only surpassed ~70% after 250 ms. Finally, EEG and iEEG connectivity between both networks proved greater in early (0-200 ms) than later (200-400 ms) windows. Collectively, our findings indicate that, at least for some lexico-semantic categories, meaning is construed through fast reenactments of modality-specific experience.

Keywords: EEG; embodied cognition; functional connectivity; intracranial recordings; semantic processing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Electrocorticography / methods
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Face
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Semantics*