The present study investigated the neural correlates of the processing of abstract (low imageability) verbs. An extensive body of literature has investigated concrete versus abstract nouns but little is known about how abstract verbs are processed. Spanish abstract verbs including emotion verbs (e.g., amar, “to love”; molestar, “to annoy”) were compared to concrete verbs (e.g., llevar, “to carry”; arrastrar, “to drag”). Results indicated that abstract verbs elicited stronger activity in regions previously associated with semantic retrieval such as inferior frontal, anterior temporal, and posterior temporal regions, and that concrete and abstract activation networks (compared to that of pseudoverbs) were partially distinct, with concrete verbs eliciting more posterior activity in these regions. In contrast to previous studies investigating nouns, verbs strongly engage both left and right inferior frontal gyri, suggesting, as previously found, that right prefrontal cortex aids difficult semantic retrieval. Together with previous evidence demonstrating nonverbal conceptual roles for the active regions as well as experiential content for abstract word meanings, our results suggest that abstract verbs impose greater demands on semantic retrieval or property integration, and are less consistent with the view that abstract words recruit left-lateralized regions because they activate verbal codes or context, as claimed by proponents of the dual-code theory. Moreover, our results are consistent with distributed accounts of semantic memory because distributed networks may coexist with varying retrieval demands.

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