Walking or talking? Behavioral and neurophysiological correlates of action verb processing

Brain activity elicited by visually presented words was investigated using behavioral measures and current source densities calculated from high-resolution EEG recordings. Verbs referring to actions usually performed with different body parts were compared. Behavioral data indicated faster processing of verbs referring to actions performed with the face muscles and articulators (face-related words) compared to verbs referring to movements involving the lower half of the body (leg-related words). Significant topographical differences in brain activity elicited by verb types were found starting approximately 250 ms after word onset. Differences were seen at recording sites located over the motor strip and adjacent frontal cortex. At the vertex, close to the cortical representation of the leg, leg-related verbs (for example, to walk) produced strongest in-going currents, whereas for face-related verbs (for example, to talk) the most in-going activity was seen at more lateral electrodes placed over the left Sylvian fissure, close to the representation of the articulators. Thus, action words caused differential activation along the motor strip, with strongest in-going activity occurring close to the cortical representation of the body parts primarily used for carrying out the actions the verbs refer to. Topographically specific physiological signs of word processing started earlier for face-related words and lasted longer for verbs referring to leg movements. We conclude that verb types can differ in their processing speed and can elicit neurophysiological activity with different cortical topographies. These behavioral and physiological differences can be related to cognitive processes, in particular to lexical semantic access. Our results are consistent with associative theories postulating that words are organized in the brain as distributed cell assemblies whose cortical distributions reflect the words' meanings.

Published in:
Brain and language, 78, 2, 143-68

 Record created 2016-12-30, last modified 2018-01-28

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