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A functional role for modality-specific perceptual systems in conceptual representations

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

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Journal publication date13/03/2012
JournalPLoS ONE
Journal number3
Volume7
Number of pages7
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Theories of embodied cognition suggest that conceptual processing relies on the same neural resources that are utilized for perception and action. Evidence for these perceptual simulations comes from neuroimaging and behavioural research, such as demonstrations of somatotopic motor cortex activations following the presentation of action-related words, or facilitation of grasp responses following presentation of object names. However, the interpretation of such effects has been called into question by suggestions that neural activation in modality-specific sensorimotor regions may be epiphenomenal, and merely the result of spreading activations from "disembodied", abstracted, symbolic representations. Here, we present two studies that focus on the perceptual modalities of touch and proprioception. We show that in a timed object-comparison task, concurrent tactile or proprioceptive stimulation to the hands facilitates conceptual processing relative to control stimulation. This facilitation occurs only for small, manipulable objects, where tactile and proprioceptive information form part of the multimodal perceptual experience of interacting with such objects, but facilitation is not observed for large, nonmanipulable objects where such perceptual information is uninformative. Importantly, these facilitation effects are independent of motor and action planning, and indicate that modality-specific perceptual information plays a functionally constitutive role in our mental representations of objects, which supports embodied assumptions that concepts are grounded in the same neural systems that govern perception and action.

Bibliographic note

Copyright: © 2012 Connell et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.