Immediate sensorimotor grounding of novel concepts learned from language alone

Fritz Günther, Tri Nguyen, Lu Chen, Carolin Dudschig, Barbara Kaup, Arthur M. Glenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Theories of grounded cognition postulate that concepts are grounded in sensorimotor experience. But how can that be for concepts like Atlantis for which we do not have that experience? We claim that such concepts obtain their sensorimotor grounding indirectly, via already-known concepts used to describe them. Participants learned novel words referring to up or down concepts (mende = enhanced head or mende = bionic foot). In a first experiment, participants then judged the sensibility of sentences implying up or down actions (e.g., “You scratch your bionic foot”) by performing up or down hand movements. Reactions were faster when the hand movement matched the direction of the implied movement. In the second experiment, we observed the same congruency effect for sentences like, “You scratch your mende”, whose implied direction depended entirely on the learning phase. This offers a perspective on how concepts learned without direct experience can nonetheless be grounded in sensorimotor experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104172
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Embodiment
  • Grounded cognition
  • Language comprehension
  • Word learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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