Context-dependent changes in functional connectivity of auditory cortices during the perception of object words
SourceJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24, 10, (2012), pp. 2108-2119
Article / Letter to editor
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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
SubjectDCN MP - Plasticity and memory
Embodied theories hold that cognitive concepts are grounded in our sensorimotor systems. Specifically, a number of behavioral and neuroimaging studies have buttressed the idea that language concepts are represented in areas involved in perception and action [Pulvermueller, F. Brain mechanisms linking language and action. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 6, 576-582, 2005; Barsalou, L. W. Perceptual symbol systems. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22, 577-660, 1999]. Proponents of a strong embodied account argue that activity in perception/action areas is triggered automatically upon encountering a word and reflect static semantic representations. In contrast to what would be expected if lexical semantic representations are automatically triggered upon encountering a word, a number of studies failed to find motor-related activity for words with a putative action-semantic component [Raposo, A., Moss, H. E., Stamatakis, E. A., & Tyler, L. K. Modulation of motor and premotor cortices by actions, action words and action sentences. Neuropsychologia, 47, 388-396, 2009; Rueschemeyer, S.-A., Brass, M., & Friederici, A. D. Comprehending prehending: Neural correlates of processing verbs with motor stems. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19, 855-865, 2007]. In a recent fMRI study, Van Dam and colleagues [Van Dam, W. O., Van Dijk, M., Bekkering, H., & Rueschemeyer, S.-A. Flexibility in embodied lexical-semantic representations. Human Brain Mapping, in press] showed that the degree to which a modality-specific region contributes to a representation considerably changes as a function of context. In the current study, we presented words for which both motor and visual properties (e.g., tennis ball, boxing glove) were important in constituting the concept. Our aim was to corroborate on earlier findings of flexible and context-dependent language representations by testing whether functional integration between auditory brain regions and perception/action areas is modulated by context. Functional connectivity was investigated by means of a psychophysiological interaction analysis, in which we found that bilateral superior temporal gyrus was more strongly connected with brain regions relevant for coding action information: (1) for Action Color words vs. Abstract words, and (2) for Action Color words presented in a context that emphasized action vs. a context that emphasized color properties.
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