The Motor System Contributes to Comprehension of Abstract Language

Connie Qun Guan, Wanjin Meng, Ru Yao, Arthur Glenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere75183
JournalPloS one
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 26 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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