Body-part-specific Representations of Semantic Noun Categories

Carota, F., Moseley, R., & Pulvermüller, F. (2012). Body-part-specific Representations of Semantic Noun Categories. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24(6), 1492-1509. doi:10.1162/jocn\_a\_00219.
Word meaning processing in the brain involves ventrolateral temporal cortex, but a semantic contribution of the dorsal stream, especially frontocentral sensorimotor areas, has been controversial. We here examine brain activation during passive reading of object-related nouns from different semantic categories, notably animal, food, and tool words, matched for a range of psycholinguistic features. Results show ventral stream activation in temporal cortex along with category-specific activation patterns in both ventral and dorsal streams, including sensorimotor systems and adjacent pFC. Precentral activation reflected action-related semantic features of the word categories. Cortical regions implicated in mouth and face movements were sparked by food words, and hand area activation was seen for tool words, consistent with the actions implicated by the objects the words are used to speak about. Furthermore, tool words specifically activated the right cerebellum, and food words activated the left orbito-frontal and fusiform areas. We discuss our results in the context of category-specific semantic deficits in the processing of words and concepts, along with previous neuroimaging research, and conclude that specific dorsal and ventral areas in frontocentral and temporal cortex index visual and affective–emotional semantic attributes of object-related nouns and action-related affordances of their referent objects.
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