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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2014 Oct;40(5):1832-48. doi: 10.1037/a0037449. Epub 2014 Jul 21.

Uncovering the architecture of action semantics.

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Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute.


Despite research suggesting that stored sensorimotor information about tool use is a component of the semantic representations of tools, little is known about the action features or organizing principles that underlie this knowledge. We used methods similar to those applied in other semantic domains to examine the "architecture" of action semantic knowledge. In Experiment 1, participants sorted photographs of tools into groups according to the similarity of their associated "use" actions and rated tools on dimensions related to action. The results suggest that the magnitude of arm movement, configuration of the hand, and manner of motion during tool use play a role in determining how tools cluster in action "semantic space." In Experiment 2, we validated the architecture uncovered in Experiment 1 using an implicit semantic task for which tool use knowledge was not ostensibly relevant (blocked cyclic word-picture matching). Using stimuli from Experiment 1, we found that participants performed more poorly during blocks of trials containing tools used with similar versus unrelated actions, and the amount of semantic interference depended on the magnitude of action similarity among tools. Thus, the degree of featural overlap between tool use actions plays a role in determining the overall semantic similarity of tools.

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