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Hum Brain Mapp. 1999;7(4):225-33.

Neural pathways involved in the processing of concrete and abstract words.

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Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


The purpose of this study was to delineate the neural pathways involved in processing concrete and abstract words using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Word and pseudoword stimuli were presented visually, one at a time, and the participant was required to make a lexical decision. Lexical decision epochs alternated with a resting baseline. In each lexical decision epoch, the stimuli were either concrete words and pseudowords, or abstract words and pseudowords. Behavioral data indicated that, as with previous research, concrete word stimuli were processed more efficiently than abstract word stimuli. Analysis of the fMRI data indicated that processing of word stimuli, compared to the baseline condition, was associated with neural activation in the bilateral fusiform gyrus, anterior cingulate, left middle temporal gyrus, right posterior superior temporal gyrus, and left and right inferior frontal gyrus. A direct comparison between the abstract and concrete stimuli epochs yielded a significant area of activation in the right anterior temporal cortex. The results are consistent with recent positron emission tomography work showing right hemisphere activation during processing of abstract representations of language. The results are interpreted as support for a right hemisphere neural pathway in the processing of abstract word representations.

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