One question that has long captured the interest of philosophers, cognitive psychologists and linguists is how our brain mediates the knowledge we have about the world (i.e. concepts). The importance of this question is that concepts permit us to bring meaning to our experiences; they are core to language and nonverbal behavior and their impairment after brain damage generates significant disability. Previous studies have mostly focused on object concepts (e.g. animals, tools, etc.) rather than action concepts (i.e. to run, to think, etc.). In our view, exploring our conceptual representations of actions is fundamental for obtaining a more complete picture of how the brain mediates our knowledge of the world. In this project we use the functional magnetic resonance imaging technique (fMRI) with healthy individuals as a tool for addressing two controversial questions in the field. First, we will examine whether a differential representation of action and object concepts exists in a particular brain region (the posterior-lateral-temporal cortex- PLTC). In particular, we will try to demonstrate that the PLTC subserves the representation of actions relative to objects, and that this is due to a conceptual (action vs. object) rather than a grammatical (verb vs. noun) distinction (Experiment 1). Then, we will examine whether the PLTC is specialized in representing action concepts to the extent that it differentially responds to homophone words marked as verbs (she drinks) relative those marked as nouns (these drinks; Experiment 2). Second, we will determine the nature of action concepts by examining whether they are represented in an abstract manner (Experiment 3). If so, we will investigate whether the amount of motion information carried by an action (e.g. run vs. think) influences how these abstract representations are organized in the brain (Experiment 4).
Fields of science
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