Concept Representation Reflects Multimodal Abstraction: A Framework for Embodied Semantics

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Recent research indicates that sensory and motor cortical areas play a significant role in the neural representation of concepts. However, little is known about the overall architecture of this representational system, including the role played by higher level areas that integrate different types of sensory and motor information. The present study addressed this issue by investigating the simultaneous contributions of multiple sensory-motor modalities to semantic word processing. With a multivariate fMRI design, we examined activation associated with 5 sensory-motor attributes—color, shape, visual motion, sound, and manipulation—for 900 words. Regions responsive to each attribute were identified using independent ratings of the attributes’ relevance to the meaning of each word. The results indicate that these aspects of conceptual knowledge are encoded in multimodal and higher level unimodal areas involved in processing the corresponding types of information during perception and action, in agreement with embodied theories of semantics. They also reveal a hierarchical system of abstracted sensory-motor representations incorporating a major division between object interaction and object perception processes.

Fernandino, L, Binder, JR, Desai, RH, Pendl, SL, Humphries, CJ, Gross, WL, Conant, LL, Seidenberg, MS (2015) Concept Representation Reflects Multimodal Abstraction: A Framework for Embodied Semantics. Cerebral Cortex; doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhv020

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