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      Nouns, verbs, objects, actions, and abstractions: Local fMRI activity indexes semantics, not lexical categories


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          • Concrete nouns and verbs elicit different brain signatures in frontocentral cortex.

          • Abstract nouns and verbs fail to elicit different brain activation patterns.

          • Concrete verbs activate motor and premotor cortex more strongly than concrete nouns.

          • Concrete nouns activate inferior frontal areas more strongly than concrete verbs.

          • Lexical category distinctions in middle temporal cortex cannot be confirmed.


          Noun/verb dissociations in the literature defy interpretation due to the confound between lexical category and semantic meaning; nouns and verbs typically describe concrete objects and actions. Abstract words, pertaining to neither, are a critical test case: dissociations along lexical-grammatical lines would support models purporting lexical category as the principle governing brain organisation, whilst semantic models predict dissociation between concrete words but not abstract items. During fMRI scanning, participants read orthogonalised word categories of nouns and verbs, with or without concrete, sensorimotor meaning. Analysis of inferior frontal/insula, precentral and central areas revealed an interaction between lexical class and semantic factors with clear category differences between concrete nouns and verbs but not abstract ones. Though the brain stores the combinatorial and lexical-grammatical properties of words, our data show that topographical differences in brain activation, especially in the motor system and inferior frontal cortex, are driven by semantics and not by lexical class.

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          Most cited references109

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          Perceptual symbol systems.

          Prior to the twentieth century, theories of knowledge were inherently perceptual. Since then, developments in logic, statistics, and programming languages have inspired amodal theories that rest on principles fundamentally different from those underlying perception. In addition, perceptual approaches have become widely viewed as untenable because they are assumed to implement recording systems, not conceptual systems. A perceptual theory of knowledge is developed here in the context of current cognitive science and neuroscience. During perceptual experience, association areas in the brain capture bottom-up patterns of activation in sensory-motor areas. Later, in a top-down manner, association areas partially reactivate sensory-motor areas to implement perceptual symbols. The storage and reactivation of perceptual symbols operates at the level of perceptual components--not at the level of holistic perceptual experiences. Through the use of selective attention, schematic representations of perceptual components are extracted from experience and stored in memory (e.g., individual memories of green, purr, hot). As memories of the same component become organized around a common frame, they implement a simulator that produces limitless simulations of the component (e.g., simulations of purr). Not only do such simulators develop for aspects of sensory experience, they also develop for aspects of proprioception (e.g., lift, run) and introspection (e.g., compare, memory, happy, hungry). Once established, these simulators implement a basic conceptual system that represents types, supports categorization, and produces categorical inferences. These simulators further support productivity, propositions, and abstract concepts, thereby implementing a fully functional conceptual system. Productivity results from integrating simulators combinatorially and recursively to produce complex simulations. Propositions result from binding simulators to perceived individuals to represent type-token relations. Abstract concepts are grounded in complex simulations of combined physical and introspective events. Thus, a perceptual theory of knowledge can implement a fully functional conceptual system while avoiding problems associated with amodal symbol systems. Implications for cognition, neuroscience, evolution, development, and artificial intelligence are explored.
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            Measuring emotion: the Self-Assessment Manikin and the Semantic Differential.

            The Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM) is a non-verbal pictorial assessment technique that directly measures the pleasure, arousal, and dominance associated with a person's affective reaction to a wide variety of stimuli. In this experiment, we compare reports of affective experience obtained using SAM, which requires only three simple judgments, to the Semantic Differential scale devised by Mehrabian and Russell (An approach to environmental psychology, 1974) which requires 18 different ratings. Subjective reports were measured to a series of pictures that varied in both affective valence and intensity. Correlations across the two rating methods were high both for reports of experienced pleasure and felt arousal. Differences obtained in the dominance dimension of the two instruments suggest that SAM may better track the personal response to an affective stimulus. SAM is an inexpensive, easy method for quickly assessing reports of affective response in many contexts.
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              Functional MRI of language: new approaches to understanding the cortical organization of semantic processing.

              Until recently, our understanding of how language is organized in the brain depended on analysis of behavioral deficits in patients with fortuitously placed lesions. The availability of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) for in vivo analysis of the normal brain has revolutionized the study of language. This review discusses three lines of fMRI research into how the semantic system is organized in the adult brain. These are (a) the role of the left inferior frontal lobe in semantic processing and dissociations from other frontal lobe language functions, (b) the organization of categories of objects and concepts in the temporal lobe, and (c) the role of the right hemisphere in comprehending contextual and figurative meaning. Together, these lines of research broaden our understanding of how the brain stores, retrieves, and makes sense of semantic information, and they challenge some commonly held notions of functional modularity in the language system.

                Author and article information

                Brain Lang
                Brain Lang
                Brain and Language
                Academic Press
                1 May 2014
                May 2014
                : 132
                : 100
                : 28-42
                [a ]MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences, Unit, 15 Chaucer Road, CB2 7EF, Cambridge, UK
                [b ]Autism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Douglas House, 18b Trumpington Road, CB2 8AH, Cambridge, UK
                [c ]Brain Language Laboratory, Department of Philosophy and Humanities, Freie Universität Berlin, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, 14195 Berlin, Germany
                Author notes
                [* ]Corresponding author at: Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge, UK. rachel.moseley@ 123456cantab.net
                © 2014 The Authors

                This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).


                embodied meaning,fmri,grammatical category,lexical category,semantics
                embodied meaning, fmri, grammatical category, lexical category, semantics


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