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Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2005 May;23(2-3):361-73. Epub 2005 Jan 7.

Distinctions between manipulation and function knowledge of objects: evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging.

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Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute, Korman 213, 1200 W. Tabor Rd., Philadelphia, PA 19141, USA.


A prominent account of conceptual knowledge proposes that information is distributed over visual, tactile, auditory, motor and verbal-declarative attribute domains to the degree to which these features were activated when the knowledge was acquired [D.A. Allport, Distributed memory, modular subsystems and dysphagia, In: S.K. Newman, R. Epstein (Eds.), Current perspectives in dysphagia, Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh, 1985, pp. 32-60]. A corollary is that when drawing upon this knowledge (e.g., to answer questions), particular aspects of this distributed information is re-activated as a function of the requirements of the task at hand [L.J. Buxbaum, E.M. Saffran, Knowledge of object manipulation and object function: dissociations in apraxic and non-apraxic subjects. Brain and Language, 82 (2002) 179-199; L.J. Buxbaum, T. Veramonti, M.F. Schwartz, Function and manipulation tool knowledge in apraxia: knowing 'what for' but not 'how', Neurocase, 6 (2000) 83-97; W. Simmons, L. Barsalou, The similarity-in-topography principle: Reconciling theories of conceptual deficits, Cognitive Neuropsychology, 20 (2003) 451-486]. This account predicts that answering questions about object manipulation should activate brain regions previously identified as components of the distributed sensory-motor system involved in object use, whereas answering questions about object function (that is, the purpose that it serves) should activate regions identified as components of the systems supporting verbal-declarative features. These predictions were tested in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study in which 15 participants viewed picture or word pairs denoting manipulable objects and determined whether the objects are manipulated similarly (M condition) or serve the same function (F condition). Significantly greater and more extensive activations in the left inferior parietal lobe bordering the intraparietal sulcus were seen in the M condition with pictures and, to a lesser degree, words. These findings are consistent with the known role of this region in skilled object use [K.M. Heilman, L.J. Gonzalez Rothi, Apraxia, In: K.M. Heilman, E. Valenstein (Eds.), Clinical Neuropsychology, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993, pp. 141-150] as well as previous fMRI results [M. Kellenbach, M. Brett, K. Patterson, Actions speak louder than functions: the importance of manipulability and action in tool representation, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 15 (2003) 30-46] and behavioral findings in brain-lesion patients [L.J. Buxbaum, E.M. Saffran, Knowledge of object manipulation and object function: dissociations in apraxic and non-apraxic subjects, Brain and Language, 82 (2002) 179-199]. No brain regions were significantly more activated in the F than M condition. These data suggest that brain regions specialized for sensory-motor function are a critical component of distributed representations of manipulable objects.

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