Behavioural and neuroscientific research has provided evidence for a strong functional link between the neural motor system and lexical-semantic processing of action-related language. It remains unclear, however, whether the impact of motor actions is restricted to online language comprehension or whether sensorimotor codes are also important in the formation and consolidation of persisting memory representations of the word's referents. The current study now demonstrates that recognition performance for action words is modulated by motor actions performed during the retention interval. Specifically, participants were required to learn words denoting objects that were associated with either a pressing or a twisting action (e.g., piano, screwdriver) and words that were not associated to actions. During a 6-8-minute retention phase, participants performed an intervening task that required the execution of pressing or twisting responses. A subsequent recognition task revealed a better memory for words that denoted objects for which the functional use was congruent with the action performed during the retention interval (e.g., pepper mill-twisting action, doorbell-pressing action) than for words that denoted objects for which the functional use was incongruent. In further experiments, we were able to generalize this effect of selective memory enhancement of words by performing congruent motor actions to an implicit perceptual (Experiment 2) and implicit semantic memory test (Experiment 3). Our findings suggest that a reactivation of motor codes affects the process of memory consolidation and emphasizes therefore the important role of sensorimotor codes in establishing enduring semantic representations.
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Correspondence should be addressed to Wessel O. van Dam, P.O. Box 9104, 6500 HE Nijmegen, The Netherlands. E-mail: VANDAMW@mailbox.sc.edu The authors thank Pascal de Water and Gerard van Oijen for technical support and Markus van Ackeren for help in creating stimulus material. The authors would also like to thank Eelco van Dongen, Michael Masson, Art Glenberg, and Diane Pecher for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. The study was supported by the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research NWO-VICI grant (453-05-001) to the third author and NWO-VENI grant (016-094-053) to the last author.