Hand specific representations in language comprehension

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Authors:
  • Claire Moody-Triantis
  • Gina F. Humphreys
  • Silvia P. Gennari


Theories of embodied cognition argue that language comprehension involves sensory-motor re-enactments of the actions described. However, the degree of specificity of these re-enactments as well as the relationship between action and language remains a matter of debate. Here we investigate these issues by examining how hand-specific information (left or right hand) is recruited in language comprehension and action execution. An fMRI study tested self-reported right-handed participants in two separate tasks that were designed to be as similar as possible to increase sensitivity of the comparison across task: an action execution go/no-go task where participants performed right or left hand actions, and a language task where participants read sentences describing the same left or right handed actions as in the execution task. We found that language-induced activity did not match the hand-specific patterns of activity found for action execution in primary somatosensory and motor cortex, but it overlapped with pre-motor and parietal regions associated with action planning. Within these pre-motor regions, both right hand actions and sentences elicited stronger activity than left hand actions and sentences-a dominant hand effect. Importantly, both dorsal and ventral sections of the left pre-central gyrus were recruited by both tasks, suggesting different action features being recruited. These results suggest that (a) language comprehension elicits motor representations that are hand-specific and akin to multimodal action plans, rather than full action re-enactments; and (b) language comprehension and action execution share schematic hand-specific representations that are richer for the dominant hand, and thus linked to previous motor experience. © 2014 Moody-Triantis, Humphreys and Gennari.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Article number360
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberJUNE
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2014