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      The Semantic Content of Abstract Concepts: A Property Listing Study of 296 Abstract Words


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          The relation of abstract concepts to the modality-specific systems is discussed controversially. According to classical approaches, the semantic content of abstract concepts can only be coded by amodal or verbal-symbolic representations distinct from the sensory and motor systems, because abstract concepts lack a clear physical referent. Grounded cognition theories, in contrast, propose that abstract concepts do not depend only on the verbal system, but also on a variety of modal systems involving perception, action, emotion and internal states. In order to contribute to this debate, we investigated the semantic content of abstract concepts using a property generation task. Participants were asked to generate properties for 296 abstract concepts, which are relevant for constituting their meaning. These properties were categorized by a coding-scheme making a classification into modality-specific and verbal contents possible. Words were additionally rated with regard to concreteness/abstractness and familiarity. To identify possible subgroups of abstract concepts with distinct profiles of generated features, hierarchical cluster analyses were conducted. Participants generated a substantial proportion of introspective, affective, social, sensory and motor-related properties, in addition to verbal associations. Cluster analyses revealed different subcategories of abstract concepts, which can be characterized by the dominance of certain conceptual features. The present results are therefore compatible with grounded cognition theories, which emphasize the importance of linguistic, social, introspective and affective experiential information for the representation of abstract concepts. Our findings also indicate that abstract concepts are highly heterogeneous requiring the investigation of well-specified subcategories of abstract concepts, for instance as revealed by the present cluster analyses. The present study could thus guide future behavioral or imaging work further elucidating the representation of abstract concepts.

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          Most cited references66

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          Grounded cognition.

          Grounded cognition rejects traditional views that cognition is computation on amodal symbols in a modular system, independent of the brain's modal systems for perception, action, and introspection. Instead, grounded cognition proposes that modal simulations, bodily states, and situated action underlie cognition. Accumulating behavioral and neural evidence supporting this view is reviewed from research on perception, memory, knowledge, language, thought, social cognition, and development. Theories of grounded cognition are also reviewed, as are origins of the area and common misperceptions of it. Theoretical, empirical, and methodological issues are raised whose future treatment is likely to affect the growth and impact of grounded cognition.
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            Active perception: sensorimotor circuits as a cortical basis for language.

            Action and perception are functionally linked in the brain, but a hotly debated question is whether perception and comprehension of stimuli depend on motor circuits. Brain language mechanisms are ideal for addressing this question. Neuroimaging investigations have found specific motor activations when subjects understand speech sounds, word meanings and sentence structures. Moreover, studies involving transcranial magnetic stimulation and patients with lesions affecting inferior frontal regions of the brain have shown contributions of motor circuits to the comprehension of phonemes, semantic categories and grammar. These data show that language comprehension benefits from frontocentral action systems, indicating that action and perception circuits are interdependent.
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              Coming of age: a review of embodiment and the neuroscience of semantics.

              Over the last decade, there has been an increasing body of work that explores whether sensory and motor information is a necessary part of semantic representation and processing. This is the embodiment hypothesis. This paper presents a theoretical review of this work that is intended to be useful for researchers in the neurosciences and neuropsychology. Beginning with a historical perspective, relevant theories are placed on a continuum from strongly embodied to completely unembodied representations. Predictions are derived and neuroscientific and neuropsychological evidence that could support different theories is reviewed; finally, criticisms of embodiment are discussed. We conclude that strongly embodied and completely disembodied theories are not supported, and that the remaining theories agree that semantic representation involves some form of convergence zones (Damasio, 1989) and the activation of modal content. For the future, research must carefully define the boundaries of semantic processing and tackle the representation of abstract entities. Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Srl. All rights reserved.

                Author and article information

                Front Psychol
                Front Psychol
                Front. Psychol.
                Frontiers in Psychology
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                19 September 2018
                : 9
                Department of Psychiatry, Ulm University , Ulm, Germany
                Author notes

                Edited by: Andriy Myachykov, Northumbria University, United Kingdom

                Reviewed by: Laura J. Speed, Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands; Anna M. Borghi, Università degli Studi di Roma “La Sapienza”, Italy; Dermot Lynott, Lancaster University, United Kingdom

                *Correspondence: Markus Kiefer, markus.kiefer@ 123456uni-ulm.de

                This article was submitted to Cognition, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology

                Copyright © 2018 Harpaintner, Trumpp and Kiefer.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                Page count
                Figures: 4, Tables: 5, Equations: 0, References: 94, Pages: 16, Words: 0
                Original Research

                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry
                abstract concepts,grounded cognition,hierarchical cluster analysis,embodiment,semantic memory,conceptual representation,embodied cognition,language comprehension


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