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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2013 Feb;39(1):257-70. doi: 10.1037/a0027533. Epub 2012 Mar 5.

Incidental and context-responsive activation of structure- and function-based action features during object identification.

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Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19027, USA.


Previous studies suggest that action representations are activated during object processing, even when task-irrelevant. In addition, there is evidence that lexical-semantic context may affect such activation during object processing. Finally, prior work from our laboratory and others indicates that function-based ("use") and structure-based ("move") action subtypes may differ in their activation characteristics. Most studies assessing such effects, however, have required manual object-relevant motor responses, thereby plausibly influencing the activation of action representations. The present work uses eyetracking and a Visual World Paradigm task without object-relevant actions to assess the time course of activation of action representations, as well as their responsiveness to lexical-semantic context. In two experiments, participants heard a target word and selected its referent from an array of four objects. Gaze fixations on nontarget objects signal activation of features shared between targets and nontargets. The experiments assessed activation of structure-based (Experiment 1) or function-based (Experiment 2) distractors, using neutral sentences ("S/he saw the....") or sentences with a relevant action verb (Experiment 1: "S/he picked up the...."; Experiment 2: "S/he used the...."). We observed task-irrelevant activations of action information in both experiments. In neutral contexts, structure-based activation was relatively faster-rising but more transient than function-based activation. Additionally, action verb contexts reliably modified patterns of activation in both Experiments. These data provide fine-grained information about the dynamics of activation of function-based and structure-based actions in neutral and action-relevant contexts, in support of the "Two Action System" model of object and action processing (e.g., Buxbaum & Kalénine, 2010).

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