Effects of intentional motor actions on embodied language processing

Shirley Ann Rueschemeyer*, Oliver Lindemann, Daan Van Rooij, Wessel Van Dam, Harold Bekkering

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)


Embodied theories of language processing suggest that this motor simulation is an automatic and necessary component of meaning representation. If this is the case, then language and action systems should be mutually dependent (i.e., motor activity should selectively modulate processing of words with an action-semantic component). In this paper, we investigate in two experiments whether evidence for mutual dependence can be found using a motor priming paradigm. Specifically, participants performed either an intentional or a passive motor task while processing words denoting manipulable and nonmanipulable objects. The performance rates (Experiment 1) and response latencies (Experiment 2) in a lexical-decision task reveal that participants performing an intentional action were positively affected in the processing of words denoting manipulable objects as compared to nonmanipulable objects. This was not the case if participants performed a secondary passive motor action (Experiment 1) or did not perform a secondary motor task (Experiment 2). The results go beyond previous research showing that language processes involve motor systems to demonstrate that the execution of motor actions has a selective effect on the semantic processing of words. We suggest that intentional actions activate specific parts of the neural motor system, which are also engaged for lexical-semantic processing of actionrelated words and discuss the beneficial versus inhibitory nature of this relationship. The results provide new insights into the embodiment of language and the bidirectionality of effects between language and action processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)260-266
Number of pages7
JournalExperimental Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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