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Imagining the truth and the moon: An electrophysiological study of abstract and concrete word processing


  • MMG was supported by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. The research reported here was supported by funds from Dartmouth College to DC. We are grateful to Natalie Berger, Elyse George, Emily Jasinski, Allison Landers, and Elisse Lockhart for their help with data collection, to Ray Vukcevich for programming assistance, and to the anonymous reviewers and editor for useful comments on a previous version of this manuscript. MMG is now at Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northwestern University, and PM is now at Department of Psychology, Tufts University.

Address correspondence to: Donna Coch, Dartmouth College, Department of Education, 3 Maynard Street, Raven House, HB 6103, Hanover, NH, 03755. E-mail:


Previous event-related potential studies have indicated that both a widespread N400 and an anterior N700 index differential processing of concrete and abstract words, but the nature of these components in relation to concreteness and imagery has been unclear. Here, we separated the effects of word concreteness and task demands on the N400 and N700 in a single word processing paradigm with a within-subjects, between-tasks design and carefully controlled word stimuli. The N400 was larger to concrete words than to abstract words, and larger in the visualization task condition than in the surface task condition, with no interaction. A marked anterior N700 was elicited only by concrete words in the visualization task condition, suggesting that this component indexes imagery. These findings are consistent with a revised or extended dual coding theory according to which concrete words benefit from greater activation in both verbal and imagistic systems.