Body Schemantics: On the role of the body schema in embodied lexical-semantic representations
Words denoting manipulable objects activate sensorimotor brain areas, likely reflecting action experience with the denoted objects. In particular, these sensorimotor lexical representations have been found to reflect the way in which an object is used. In the current paper we present data from two experiments (one behavioral and one neuroimaging) in which we investigate whether body schema information, putatively necessary for interacting with functional objects, is also recruited during lexical processing. To this end, we presented participants with words denoting objects that are typically brought towards or away from the body (e.g., cup or key, respectively). We hypothesized that objects typically brought to a location on the body (e.g., cup) are relatively more reliant on body schema representations, since the final goal location of the cup (i.e., the mouth) is represented primarily through posture and body co-ordinates. In contrast, objects typically brought to a location away from the body (e.g., key) are relatively more dependent on visuo-spatial representations, since the final goal location of the key (i.e., a keyhole) is perceived visually. The behavioral study showed that prior planning of a movement along an axis towards and away from the body facilitates processing of words with a congruent action semantic feature (i.e., preparation of movement towards the body facilitates processing of cup.). In an fMRI study we showed that words denoting objects brought towards the body engage the resources of brain areas involved in the processing information about human bodies (i.e., the extra-striate body area, middle occipital gyrus and inferior parietal lobe) relatively more than words denoting objects typically brought away from the body. The results provide converging evidence that body schema are implicitly activated in processing lexical information.