Perception, action, and word meanings in the human brain: the case from action verbs


Address for correspondence: Marina Bedny, Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 43 Vassar St., room 46-4021, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139.


Among other things, humans talk about what they perceive and do, like “glowing,”“hopping,” and “squeaking.” What is the relationship between our sensory-motor experiences and word meanings? Does understanding action-verbs rely on the same neural circuits as seeing and acting? The available evidence indicates that sensory-motor experience and word meanings are represented in distinct, but interacting systems. Understanding action-verbs does not rely on early modality-specific visual or motor circuits. Instead, word comprehension relies on a network of amodal brain regions in the left frontal, temporal, and parietal cortices that represent conceptual and grammatical properties of words. Interactions between word meanings and sensory-motor experiences occur in higher-order polymodal brain regions.