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Actions, Words, and Numbers: A Motor Contribution to Semantic Processing?

from Current Directions in Psychological Science

ABSTRACT—Recent findings in neuroscience challenge the view that the motor system is exclusively dedicated to the control of actions, and it has been suggested that it may contribute critically to conceptual processes such as those involved in language and number representation. The aim of this review is to address this issue by illustrating some interactions between the motor system and the processing of words and numbers. First, we detail functional brain imaging studies suggesting that motor circuits may be recruited to represent the meaning of action-related words. Second, we summarize a series of experiments demonstrating some interference between the size of grip used to grasp objects and the magnitude processing of words or numbers. Third, we report data suggestive of a common representation of numbers and finger movements in the adult brain, a possible trace of the finger-counting strategies used in childhood. Altogether, these studies indicate that the motor system interacts with several aspects of word and number representations. Future research should determine whether these findings reflect a causal role of the motor system in the organization of semantic knowledge.