When language meets action: The neural integration of gesture and speech

Willems, R. M., Ozyurek, A., & Hagoort, P. (2007). When language meets action: The neural integration of gesture and speech. Cerebral Cortex, 17(10), 2322-2333. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhl141.
Although generally studied in isolation, language and action often co-occur in everyday life. Here we investigated one particular form of simultaneous language and action, namely speech and gestures that speakers use in everyday communication. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we identified the neural networks involved in the integration of semantic information from speech and gestures. Verbal and/or gestural content could be integrated easily or less easily with the content of the preceding part of speech. Premotor areas involved in action observation (Brodmann area [BA] 6) were found to be specifically modulated by action information "mismatching" to a language context. Importantly, an increase in integration load of both verbal and gestural information into prior speech context activated Broca's area and adjacent cortex (BA 45/47). A classical language area, Broca's area, is not only recruited for language-internal processing but also when action observation is integrated with speech. These findings provide direct evidence that action and language processing share a high-level neural integration system.
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