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PLoS One. 2013 Sep 26;8(9):e75183. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075183. eCollection 2013.

The motor system contributes to comprehension of abstract language.

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University of Science and Technology, Beijing, China ; Florida State University and Florida Center for Reading Research, Tallahassee, Florida, United States of America.


If language comprehension requires a sensorimotor simulation, how can abstract language be comprehended? We show that preparation to respond in an upward or downward direction affects comprehension of the abstract quantifiers "more and more" and "less and less" as indexed by an N400-like component. Conversely, the semantic content of the sentence affects the motor potential measured immediately before the upward or downward action is initiated. We propose that this bidirectional link between motor system and language arises because the motor system implements forward models that predict the sensory consequences of actions. Because the same movement (e.g., raising the arm) can have multiple forward models for different contexts, the models can make different predictions depending on whether the arm is raised, for example, to place an object or raised as a threat. Thus, different linguistic contexts invoke different forward models, and the predictions constitute different understandings of the language.

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