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Brain Lang. 2010 Mar;112(3):214-22. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2009.05.006. Epub 2009 Jul 22.

The role of personal experience in the neural processing of action-related language.

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University of Chicago, Department of Psychology, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


We investigated how auditory language processing is modified by a listener's previous experience with the specific activities mentioned in the speech. In particular, we asked whether neural responses related to language processing depend on one's experience with the action-based content of this language. Ice-hockey players and novices passively listened to sentences about ice-hockey and everyday situations during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). When listening to action-related sentences, neural activation in left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and left dorsal premotor cortex (PMd) depended on one's actual (physical) experience with the action described in the sentence: hockey experts showed greater activity in these regions than novices for hockey sentences, but not for everyday-action sentences. Thus, personal experience with linguistic content modulated activity both in regions associated with language comprehension (IFG) and in those related to complex action planning (PMd). Moreover, hockey experts (who have extensive experience with both hockey and everyday situations) showed greater activity in left IFG regions for hockey relative to everyday sentences. This suggests that the degree to which one finds information personally relevant (i.e., over and above one's direct experience with it) also modulates processing in brain regions related to semantic-level processing.

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