Body-specific representations of action verbs: Evidence from fMRI in right- and left-handers


According to theories of embodied cognition, understanding a verb like throw involves unconsciously simulating the action throwing, using areas of the brain that support motor planning. If understanding action words involves mentally simulating our own actions, then the neurocognitive representation of word meanings should differ for people with different kinds of bodies, who perform actions in systematically different ways. In a test of the body-specificity hypothesis (Casasanto, 2009), we used fMRI to compare premotor activity correlated with action verb understanding in right- and left-handers. Right-handers preferentially activated left premotor cortex during lexical decision on manual action verbs (compared with non-manual action verbs), whereas left-handers preferentially activated right premotor areas. This finding helps refine theories of embodied semantics, suggesting that implicit mental simulation during language processing is body-specific: Right and left-handers, who perform actions differently, use correspondingly different areas of the brain for representing action verb meanings.

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