No evidence for embodiment: The motor system is not needed to keep action words in working memory

Montero-Melis, G., Van Paridon, J., Ostarek, M., & Bylund, E. (2022). No evidence for embodiment: The motor system is not needed to keep action words in working memory. Cortex, 150, 108-125. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2022.02.006.
Increasing evidence implicates the sensorimotor systems with high-level cognition, but the extent to which these systems play a functional role remains debated. Using an elegant design, Shebani and Pulvermüller (2013) reported that carrying out a demanding rhythmic task with the hands led to selective impairment of working memory for hand-related words (e.g., clap), while carrying out the same task with the feet led to selective memory impairment for foot-related words (e.g., kick). Such a striking double dissociation is acknowledged even by critics to constitute strong evidence for an embodied account of working memory. Here, we report on an attempt at a direct replication of this important finding. We followed a sequential sampling design and stopped data collection at N=77 (more than five times the original sample size), at which point the evidence for the lack of the critical selective interference effect was very strong (BF01 = 91). This finding constitutes strong evidence against a functional contribution of the motor system to keeping action words in working memory. Our finding fits into the larger emerging picture in the field of embodied cognition that sensorimotor simulations are neither required nor automatic in high-level cognitive processes, but that they may play a role depending on the task. Importantly, we urge researchers to engage in transparent, high-powered, and fully pre-registered experiments like the present one to ensure the field advances on a solid basis.
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