Context effects in embodied lexical-semantic processing

Wessel O. van Dam*, Shirley Ann Rueschemeyer, Oliver Lindemann, Harold Bekkering

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


The embodied view of language comprehension proposes that the meaning of words is grounded in perception and action rather than represented in abstract amodal symbols. Support for embodied theories of language processing comes from behavioral studies showing that understanding a sentence about an action can modulate congruent and incongruent physical responses, suggesting motor involvement during comprehension of sentences referring to bodily movement. Additionally, several neuroimaging studies have provided evidence that comprehending single words denoting manipulable objects elicits specific responses in the neural motor system. An interesting question that remains is whether action semantic knowledge is directly activated as motor simulations in the brain, or rather modulated by the semantic context in which action words are encountered. In the current paper we investigated the nature of conceptual representations using a go/no-go lexical decision task. Specifically, target words were either presented in a semantic context that emphasized dominant action features (features related to the functional use of an object) or non-dominant action features. The response latencies in a lexical decision task reveal that participants were faster to respond to words denoting objects for which the functional use was congruent with the prepared movement. This facilitation effect, however, was only apparent when the semantic context emphasized corresponding motor properties. These findings suggest that conceptual processing is a context-dependent process that incorporates motor-related knowledge in a flexible manner.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberArticle 150
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberOCT
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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