An ALE meta-analytical review of the neural correlates of abstract and concrete words

Sci Rep. 2021 Aug 3;11(1):15727. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-94506-9.


Several clinical studies have reported a double dissociation between abstract and concrete concepts, suggesting that they are processed by at least partly different networks in the brain. However, neuroimaging data seem not in line with neuropsychological reports. Using the ALE method, we run a meta-analysis on 32 brain-activation imaging studies that considered only nouns and verbs. Five clusters were associated with concrete words, four clusters with abstract words. When only nouns were selected three left activation clusters were found to be associated with concrete stimuli and only one with abstract nouns (left IFG). These results confirm that concrete and abstract words processing involves at least partially segregated brain areas, the IFG being relevant for abstract nouns and verbs while more posterior temporoparietal-occipital regions seem to be crucial for processing concrete words, in contrast with the neuropsychological literature that suggests a temporal anterior involvement for concrete words. We investigated the possible reasons that produce different outcomes in neuroimaging and clinical studies.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways*
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Semantics
  • Vocabulary