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Bewegen oder nicht bewegen: Imperative modulieren die handlungsbezogene Verarbeitung im Motorsystem

Tomasino B, Weiss PH, Fink GR.

It has been suggested that the processing of action-related words involves activation of the motor circuitry. Using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), the current study further explored the interaction between action and language by investigating whether the linguistic context, in which an action word occurs, modulates motor circuitry activity related to the processing of action words. To this end, we examined whether the presentation of hand action-related verbs as positive or negative imperatives, for example, "Do grasp" or "Don't write," modulates neural activity in the hand area of primary motor cortex (M1) or premotor cortex (Pm). Subjects (n = 19) were asked to read silently the imperative phrases, in which both meaningful action verbs and meaningless pseudo-verbs were presented, and to decide whether they made sense (lexical decision task). At the behavioral level, response times in the lexical decision task were significantly longer for negative, compared to positive, imperatives. At the neural level, activity was differentially decreased by action verbs presented as negative imperatives for the premotor and the primary motor cortex of both hemispheres. The data suggest that context (here: positive vs. negative imperatives), in which an action verb is encountered, modulates the neural activity within key areas of the motor system. The finding implies that motor simulation (or motor planning) rather than semantic processing per se may underlie previously observed motor system activation related to action verb processing. Furthermore, the current data suggest that negative imperatives may inhibit motor simulation or motor planning processes.