Language content and action/perception have been shown to activate common brain areas in previous neuroimaging studies. However, it is unclear whether overlapping cortical activation reflects a common neural source or adjacent, but distinct, sources. We address this issue by using multivoxel pattern analysis on fMRI data. Specifically, participants were instructed to engage in five tasks: (1) execute hand actions (AE), (2) observe hand actions (AO), (3) observe nonbiological motion (MO), (4) read action verbs, and (5) read nonaction verbs. A classifier was trained to distinguish between data collected from neural motor areas during (1) AE versus MO and (2) AO versus MO. These two algorithms were then used to test for a distinction between data collected during the reading of action versus nonaction verbs. The results show that the algorithm trained to distinguish between AE and MO distinguishes between word categories using signal recorded from the left parietal cortex and pre-SMA, but not from ventrolateral premotor cortex. In contrast, the algorithm trained to distinguish between AO and MO discriminates between word categories using the activity pattern in the left premotor and left parietal cortex. This shows that the sensitivity of premotor areas to language content is more similar to the process of observing others acting than to acting oneself. Furthermore, those parts of the brain that show comparable neural pattern for action execution and action word comprehension are high-level integrative motor areas rather than low-level motor areas.

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