Semantic Neighborhood Effects for Abstract versus Concrete Words.
ABSTRACT: Studies show that semantic effects may be task-specific, and thus, that semantic representations are flexible and dynamic. Such findings are critical to the development of a comprehensive theory of semantic processing in visual word recognition, which should arguably account for how semantic effects may vary by task. It has been suggested that semantic effects are more directly examined using tasks that explicitly require meaning processing relative to those for which meaning processing is not necessary (e.g., lexical decision task). The purpose of the present study was to chart the processing of concrete versus abstract words in the context of a global co-occurrence variable, semantic neighborhood density (SND), by comparing word recognition response times (RTs) across four tasks varying in explicit semantic demands: standard lexical decision task (with non-pronounceable non-words), go/no-go lexical decision task (with pronounceable non-words), progressive demasking task, and sentence relatedness task. The same experimental stimulus set was used across experiments and consisted of 44 concrete and 44 abstract words, with half of these being low SND, and half being high SND. In this way, concreteness and SND were manipulated in a factorial design using a number of visual word recognition tasks. A consistent RT pattern emerged across tasks, in which SND effects were found for abstract (but not necessarily concrete) words. Ultimately, these findings highlight the importance of studying interactive effects in word recognition, and suggest that linguistic associative information is particularly important for abstract words.
Project description:Emotional valence is known to influence word processing dependent upon concreteness. Whereas some studies point towards stronger effects of emotion on concrete words, others claim amplified emotion effects for abstract words. We investigated the interaction of emotion and concreteness by means of fMRI and EEG in a delayed lexical decision task. Behavioral data revealed a facilitating effect of high positive and negative valence on the correct processing of abstract, but not concrete words. EEG data yielded a particularly low amplitude response of the late positive component (LPC) following concrete neutral words. This presumably indicates enhanced allocation of processing resources to abstract and emotional words at late stages of word comprehension. In fMRI, interactions between concreteness and emotion were observed within the semantic processing network: the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and the left middle temporal gyrus (MTG). Higher positive or negative valence appears to facilitate semantic retrieval and selection of abstract words. Surprisingly, a reversal of this effect occurred for concrete words. This points towards enhanced semantic control for emotional concrete words compared to neutral concrete words. Our findings suggest fine-tuned integration of emotional valence and concreteness. Specifically, at late processing stages, semantic control mechanisms seem to integrate emotional cues depending on the previous progress of semantic retrieval.
Project description:Size is an important visuo-spatial characteristic of the physical world. In language processing, previous research has demonstrated a processing advantage for words denoting semantically "big" (e.g., jungle) versus "small" (e.g., needle) concrete objects. We investigated whether semantic size plays a role in the recognition of words expressing abstract concepts (e.g., truth). Semantically "big" and "small" concrete and abstract words were presented in a lexical decision task. Responses to "big" words, regardless of their concreteness, were faster than those to "small" words. Critically, we explored the relationship between semantic size and affective characteristics of words as well as their influence on lexical access. Although a word's semantic size was correlated with its emotional arousal, the temporal locus of arousal effects may depend on the level of concreteness. That is, arousal seemed to have an earlier (lexical) effect on abstract words, but a later (post-lexical) effect on concrete words. Our findings provide novel insights into the semantic representations of size in abstract concepts and highlight that affective attributes of words may not always index lexical access.
Project description:Some explanations of abstract word learning suggest that these words are learnt primarily from the linguistic input, using statistical co-occurrences of words in language, whereas concrete words can also rely on non-linguistic, experiential information. According to this hypothesis, we expect that, if the learner is not able to fully exploit the information in the linguistic input, abstract words should be affected more than concrete ones. Embodied approaches instead argue that both abstract and concrete words can rely on experiential information and, therefore, there might not be any linguistic primacy. Here, we test the role of linguistic input in the development of abstract knowledge with children with developmental language disorder (DLD) and typically developing children aged 8-13. We show that DLD children, who by definition have impoverished language, do not show a disproportionate impairment for abstract words in lexical decision and definition tasks. These results indicate that linguistic information does not have a primary role in the learning of abstract concepts and words; rather, it would play a significant role in semantic development across all domains of knowledge.This article is part of the theme issue 'Varieties of abstract concepts: development, use and representation in the brain'.
Project description:. Abstract, unlike concrete, nouns refer to notions beyond our perception. Even though there is no consensus among linguists as to what exactly constitutes a concrete or abstract word, neuroscientists found clear evidence of a "concreteness" effect. This can, for instance, be seen in patients with language impairments due to brain injury or developmental disorder who are capable of perceiving one category better than another. Even though the results are inconclusive, neuroimaging studies on healthy subjects also provide a spatial and temporal account of differences in the processing of abstract versus concrete words. A description of the neural pathways during abstract word reading, the manner in which the connectivity patterns develop over the different stages of lexical and semantic processing compared to that of concrete word processing are still debated. We conducted a high-density EEG study on 24 healthy young volunteers using an implicit categorization task. From this, we obtained high spatio-temporal resolution data and, by means of source reconstruction, reduced the effect of signal mixing observed on scalp level. A multivariate, time-varying and directional method of analyzing connectivity based on the concept of Granger Causality (Partial Directed Coherence) revealed a dynamic network that transfers information from the right superior occipital lobe along the ventral and dorsal streams towards the anterior temporal and orbitofrontal lobes of both hemispheres. Some regions along these pathways appear to be primarily involved in either receiving or sending information. A clear difference in information transfer of abstract and concrete words was observed during the time window of semantic processing, specifically for information transferred towards the left anterior temporal lobe. Further exploratory analysis confirmed a generally stronger connectivity pattern for processing concrete words. We believe our study could guide future research towards a more refined theory of abstract word processing in the brain.
Project description:While the neural underpinnings of concrete semantic knowledge have been studied extensively, abstract conceptual knowledge remains enigmatic. We present two experiments that provide converging evidence for the involvement of key regions in the temporoparietal cortex (TPC) in abstract semantic representations. First, we carried out a neuroimaging study in which participants thought deeply about abstract and concrete words. A functional connectivity analysis revealed a cortical network, including portions of the TPC, that showed coordinated activity specific to abstract word processing. In a second experiment, we tested participants with lesions involving the left TPC on a spoken-to-written word matching task using abstract and concrete target words presented in arrays of related or unrelated distractors. The results revealed an interaction between concreteness and relatedness: participants with TPC lesions were significantly less accurate for abstract words presented in related arrays than in unrelated arrays, but exhibited no effect of relatedness for concrete words. These results confirm that the TPC plays an important role in abstract concept representation and that it is part of a larger network of functionally cooperative regions needed for abstract word processing.
Project description:Neuroimaging and neuropsychological experiments suggest that modality-preferential cortices, including motor- and somatosensory areas, contribute to the semantic processing of action related concrete words. Still, a possible role of sensorimotor areas in processing abstract meaning remains under debate. Recent fMRI studies indicate an involvement of the left sensorimotor cortex in the processing of abstract-emotional words (e.g., "love") which resembles activation patterns seen for action words. But are the activated areas indeed necessary for processing action-related and abstract words? The current study now investigates word processing in two patients suffering from focal brain lesion in the left frontocentral motor system. A speeded Lexical Decision Task on meticulously matched word groups showed that the recognition of nouns from different semantic categories - related to food, animals, tools, and abstract-emotional concepts - was differentially affected. Whereas patient HS with a lesion in dorsolateral central sensorimotor systems next to the hand area showed a category-specific deficit in recognizing tool words, patient CA suffering from lesion centered in the left supplementary motor area was primarily impaired in abstract-emotional word processing. These results point to a causal role of the motor cortex in the semantic processing of both action-related object concepts and abstract-emotional concepts and therefore suggest that the motor areas previously found active in action-related and abstract word processing can serve a meaning-specific necessary role in word recognition. The category-specific nature of the observed dissociations is difficult to reconcile with the idea that sensorimotor systems are somehow peripheral or 'epiphenomenal' to meaning and concept processing. Rather, our results are consistent with the claim that cognition is grounded in action and perception and based on distributed action perception circuits reaching into modality-preferential cortex.
Project description:Concrete and abstract words are thought to differ along several psycholinguistic variables, such as frequency and emotional content. Here, we consider another variable, semantic neighborhood density, which has received much less attention, likely because semantic neighborhoods of abstract words are difficult to measure. Using a corpus-based method that creates representations of words that emphasize featural information, the current investigation explores the relationship between neighborhood density and concreteness in a large set of English nouns. Two important observations emerge. First, semantic neighborhood density is higher for concrete than for abstract words, even when other variables are accounted for, especially for smaller neighborhood sizes. Second, the effects of semantic neighborhood density on behavior are different for concrete and abstract words. Lexical decision reaction times are fastest for words with sparse neighborhoods; however, this effect is stronger for concrete words than for abstract words. These results suggest that semantic neighborhood density plays a role in the cognitive and psycholinguistic differences between concrete and abstract words, and should be taken into account in studies involving lexical semantics. Furthermore, the pattern of results with the current feature-based neighborhood measure is very different from that with associatively defined neighborhoods, suggesting that these two methods should be treated as separate measures rather than two interchangeable measures of semantic neighborhoods.
Project description:A processing advantage for emotional words relative to neutral words has been widely demonstrated in the monolingual domain (e.g., Kuperman et al., 2014). It is also well-known that, in bilingual speakers who have a certain degree of proficiency in their second language, the effects of the affective content of words on cognition are not restricted to the native language (e.g., Ferré et al., 2010). The aim of the present study was to test whether this facilitatory effect can also be obtained during the very early stages of word acquisition. In the context of a novel word learning paradigm, participants were trained on a set of Basque words by associating them to their Spanish translations. Words' concreteness and affective valence were orthogonally manipulated. Immediately after the learning phase and 1 week later, participants were tested in a Basque go-no go lexical decision task as well as in a translation task in which they had to provide the Spanish translation of the Basque words. A similar pattern of results was found across tasks and sessions, revealing main effects of concreteness and emotional content as well as an interaction between both factors. Thus, the emotional content facilitated the acquisition of abstract, but not concrete words, in the new language, with a more reliable effect for negative words than for positive ones. The results are discussed in light of the embodied theoretical view of semantic representation proposed by Kousta et al. (2011).
Project description:This event-related potential (ERP) study explored individual differences associated with gender and level of self-insight in early semantic processing. Forty-eight Chinese native speakers completed a semantic judgment task with three different categories of words: abstract neutral words (e.g., logic, effect), concrete neutral words (e.g., teapot, table), and emotion words (e.g., despair, guilt). They then assessed their levels of self-insight. Results showed that women engaged in greater processing than did men. Gender differences also manifested in the relationship between level of self-insight and word processing. For women, level of self-insight was associated with level of semantic activation for emotion words and abstract neutral words, but not for concrete neutral words. For men, level of self-insight was related to processing speed, particularly in response to abstract and concrete neutral words. These findings provide electrophysiological evidence for the effects of gender and self-insight on semantic processing and highlight the need to take into consideration subject variables in related research.
Project description:Previous research has pointed out that the combination of orthographic and semantic-associative training is a more advantageous strategy for the lexicalization of novel written word-forms than their single orthographic training. However, paradigms used previously involve explicit stimuli categorization (lexical decision), which likely influence word learning. In the present study, we used a more automatic task (silent reading) to determine the advantage of the associative training, by comparing the brain electrical signals elicited in combined (orthographic and semantic) and single (only orthographic) training conditions. In addition, the learning effect (in terms of similar neurophysiological activity between novel and known words) was also tested under a categorization paradigm, enabling determination of the possible influence of the training task in the lexicalization process. Results indicated that novel words repeatedly associated with meaningful cues showed a higher attenuation of N400 responses than those trained in the single orthographic condition, confirming the higher facilitation in the lexico-semantic processing of these stimuli, as a consequence of semantic associations. Moreover, only when the combined training was carried out in the reading task did novel words show similar N400 responses to those elicited by known words, suggesting the achievement of a similar lexical processing to known words. Crucially, when the training is carried out under a demanding task context (lexical decision), known words exhibited positive enhancement within the N400 time window, contributing to maintaining N400 differences with novel trained words and confounding the outcome of the learning. Such deflection-compatible with the modulation of the categorization-related P300 component-suggests that novel word learning could be influenced by the activation of categorization-related processes. Thus, the use of low-demand tasks arises as a more appropriate approach to study novel word learning, enabling the build-up process of mental representations, which probably depends on pure lexical and semantic factors rather than being guided by categorization demands.