Abstract

The interaction between language and action systems has become an increasingly interesting topic of discussion in cognitive neuroscience. Several recent studies have shown that processing of action verbs elicits activation in the cerebral motor system in a somatotopic manner. The current study extends these findings to show that the brain responses for processing of verbs with specific motor meanings differ not only from that of other motor verbs, but, crucially, that the comprehension of verbs with motor meanings (i.e., greifen, to grasp) differs fundamentally from the processing of verbs with abstract meanings (i.e., denken, to think). Second, the current study investigated the neural correlates of processing morphologically complex verbs with abstract meanings built on stems with motor versus abstract meanings (i.e., begreifen, to comprehend vs. bedenken, to consider). Although residual effects of motor stem meaning might have been expected, we see no evidence for this in our data. Processing of morphologically complex verbs built on motor stems showed no differences in involvement of the motor system when compared with processing complex verbs with abstract stems. Complex verbs built on motor stems did show increased activation compared with complex verbs built on abstract stems in the right posterior temporal cortex. This result is discussed in light of the involvement of the right temporal cortex in comprehension of metaphoric or figurative language.

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