Contextual processing of abstract concepts reveals neural representations of nonlinguistic semantic content

Wilson-Mendenhall, C. D., Simmons, W. K., Martin, A. and Barsalou, L. W. (2013) Contextual processing of abstract concepts reveals neural representations of nonlinguistic semantic content. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 25(6), pp. 920-935. (doi:10.1162/jocn_a_00361) (PMID:23363408) (PMCID:PMC3947606)

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Abstract

Concepts develop for many aspects of experience, including abstract internal states and abstract social activities that do not refer to concrete entities in the world. The current study assessed the hypothesis that, like concrete concepts, distributed neural patterns of relevant nonlinguistic semantic content represent the meanings of abstract concepts. In a novel neuroimaging paradigm, participants processed two abstract concepts (convince, arithmetic) and two concrete concepts (rolling, red) deeply and repeatedly during a concept–scene matching task that grounded each concept in typical contexts. Using a catch trial design, neural activity associated with each concept word was separated from neural activity associated with subsequent visual scenes to assess activations underlying the detailed semantics of each concept. We predicted that brain regions underlying mentalizing and social cognition (e.g., medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal sulcus) would become active to represent semantic content central to convince, whereas brain regions underlying numerical cognition (e.g., bilateral intraparietal sulcus) would become active to represent semantic content central to arithmetic. The results supported these predictions, suggesting that the meanings of abstract concepts arise from distributed neural systems that represent concept-specific content.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Barsalou, Professor Lawrence
Authors: Wilson-Mendenhall, C. D., Simmons, W. K., Martin, A., and Barsalou, L. W.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Psychology
Journal Name:Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Publisher:MIT Press
ISSN:0898-929X
ISSN (Online):1530-8898

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