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Neuroimage. 2006 Sep;32(3):1413-21. Epub 2006 Jul 24.

The effect of word concreteness on recognition memory.

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University of Bonn, Department of Epileptology, Sigmund-Freud-Strasse 25, D-53105 Bonn, Germany.


Concrete words that are readily imagined are better remembered than abstract words. Theoretical explanations for this effect either claim a dual coding of concrete words in the form of both a verbal and a sensory code (dual-coding theory), or a more accessible semantic network for concrete words than for abstract words (context-availability theory). However, the neural mechanisms of improved memory for concrete versus abstract words are poorly understood. Here, we investigated the processing of concrete and abstract words during encoding and retrieval in a recognition memory task using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). As predicted, memory performance was significantly better for concrete words than for abstract words. Abstract words elicited stronger activations of the left inferior frontal cortex both during encoding and recognition than did concrete words. Stronger activation of this area was also associated with successful encoding for both abstract and concrete words. Concrete words elicited stronger activations bilaterally in the posterior inferior parietal lobe during recognition. The left parietal activation was associated with correct identification of old stimuli. The anterior precuneus, left cerebellar hemisphere and the posterior and anterior cingulate cortex showed activations both for successful recognition of concrete words and for online processing of concrete words during encoding. Additionally, we observed a correlation across subjects between brain activity in the left anterior fusiform gyrus and hippocampus during recognition of learned words and the strength of the concreteness effect. These findings support the idea of specific brain processes for concrete words, which are reactivated during successful recognition.

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