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Brain Lang. 2013 Oct;127(1):86-103. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2013.05.015. Epub 2013 Aug 8.

Semantic embodiment, disembodiment or misembodiment? In search of meaning in modules and neuron circuits.

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  • Brain Language Laboratory, Freie Universität Berlin, 14195 Berlin, Germany; Medical Research Council, Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge CB2 7EF, UK. Electronic address: friedemann.pulvermuller@fu-berlin.de.


"Embodied" proposals claim that the meaning of at least some words, concepts and constructions is grounded in knowledge about actions and objects. An alternative "disembodied" position locates semantics in a symbolic system functionally detached from sensorimotor modules. This latter view is not tenable theoretically and has been empirically falsified by neuroscience research. A minimally-embodied approach now claims that action-perception systems may "color", but not represent, meaning; however, such minimal embodiment (misembodiment?) still fails to explain why action and perception systems exert causal effects on the processing of symbols from specific semantic classes. Action perception theory (APT) offers neurobiological mechanisms for "embodied" referential, affective and action semantics along with "disembodied" mechanisms of semantic abstraction, generalization and symbol combination, which draw upon multimodal brain systems. In this sense, APT suggests integrative-neuromechanistic explanations of why both sensorimotor and multimodal areas of the human brain differentially contribute to specific facets of meaning and concepts.

Copyright © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Action perception circuit; Cell assembly; Concept; Meaning; Memory cell; Mirror neuron; Semantic category; Semantics

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