Behavioral and neurophysiological effects of word imageability and concreteness remain a topic of central interest in cognitive neuroscience and could provide essential clues for understanding how the brain processes conceptual knowledge. We examined these effects using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging while participants identified concrete and abstract words. Relative to nonwords, concrete and abstract words both activated a left-lateralized network of multimodal association areas previously linked with verbal semantic processing. Areas in the left lateral temporal lobe were equally activated by both word types, whereas bilateral regions including the angular gyrus and the dorsal prefrontal cortex were more strongly engaged by concrete words. Relative to concrete words, abstract words activated left inferior frontal regions previously linked with phonological and verbal working memory processes. The results show overlapping but partly distinct neural systems for processing concrete and abstract concepts, with greater involvement of bilateral association areas during concrete word processing, and processing of abstract concepts almost exclusively by the left hemisphere.

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