Semantic Features Reveal Different Networks During Word Processing: An EEG Source Localization Study.
ABSTRACT: The neural principles behind semantic category representation are still under debate. Dominant theories mostly focus on distinguishing concrete from abstract concepts but, in such theories, divisions into categories of concrete concepts are more developed than for their abstract counterparts. An encompassing theory on semantic category representation could be within reach when charting the semantic attributes that are capable of describing both concept types. A good candidate are the three semantic dimensions defined by Osgood (potency, valence, arousal). However, to show to what extent they affect semantic processing, specific neuroimaging tools are required. Electroencephalography (EEG) is on par with the temporal resolution of cognitive behavior and source reconstruction. Using high-density set-ups, it is able to yield a spatial resolution in the scale of millimeters, sufficient to identify anatomical brain parcellations that could differentially contribute to semantic category representation. Cognitive neuroscientists traditionally focus on scalp domain analysis and turn to source reconstruction when an effect in the scalp domain has been detected. Traditional methods will potentially miss out on the fine-grained effects of semantic features as they are possibly obscured by the mixing of source activity due to volume conduction. For this reason, we have developed a mass-univariate analysis in the source domain using a mixed linear effect model. Our analyses reveal distinct networks of sources for different semantic features that are active during different stages of lexico-semantic processing of single words. With our method we identified differences in the spatio-temporal activation patterns of abstract and concrete words, high and low potency words, high and low valence words, and high and low arousal words, and in this way shed light on how word categories are represented in the brain.
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:. 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:While embodied approaches of cognition have proved to be successful in explaining concrete concepts and words, they have more difficulties in accounting for abstract concepts and words, and several proposals have been put forward. This work aims to test the Words As Tools proposal, according to which both abstract and concrete concepts are grounded in perception, action and emotional systems, but linguistic information is more important for abstract than for concrete concept representation, due to the different ways they are acquired: while for the acquisition of the latter linguistic information might play a role, for the acquisition of the former it is instead crucial. We investigated the acquisition of concrete and abstract concepts and words, and verified its impact on conceptual representation. In Experiment 1, participants explored and categorized novel concrete and abstract entities, and were taught a novel label for each category. Later they performed a categorical recognition task and an image-word matching task to verify a) whether and how the introduction of language changed the previously formed categories, b) whether language had a major weight for abstract than for concrete words representation, and c) whether this difference had consequences on bodily responses. The results confirm that, even though both concrete and abstract concepts are grounded, language facilitates the acquisition of the latter and plays a major role in their representation, resulting in faster responses with the mouth, typically associated with language production. Experiment 2 was a rating test aiming to verify whether the findings of Experiment 1 were simply due to heterogeneity, i.e. to the fact that the members of abstract categories were more heterogeneous than those of concrete categories. The results confirmed the effectiveness of our operationalization, showing that abstract concepts are more associated with the mouth and concrete ones with the hand, independently from heterogeneity.
Project description:The empirical study of language has historically relied heavily upon concrete word stimuli. By definition, concrete words evoke salient perceptual associations that fit well within feature-based, sensorimotor models of word meaning. In contrast, many theorists argue that abstract words are "disembodied" in that their meaning is mediated through language. We investigated word meaning as distributed in multidimensional space using hierarchical cluster analysis. Participants (N = 365) rated target words (n = 400 English nouns) across 12 cognitive dimensions (e.g., polarity, ease of teaching, emotional valence). Factor reduction revealed three latent factors, corresponding roughly to perceptual salience, affective association, and magnitude. We plotted the original 400 words for the three latent factors. Abstract and concrete words showed overlap in their topography but also differentiated themselves in semantic space. This topographic approach to word meaning offers a unique perspective to word concreteness.
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:Conceptual representations are perceptually grounded, but when investigating which perceptual modalities are involved, researchers have typically restricted their consideration to vision, touch, hearing, taste and smell. However, there is another major modality of perceptual information that is distinct from these traditional five senses; that is, interoception, or sensations inside the body. In this paper, we use megastudy data (modality-specific ratings of perceptual strength for over 32 000 words) to explore how interoceptive information contributes to the perceptual grounding of abstract and concrete concepts. We report how interoceptive strength captures a distinct form of perceptual experience across the abstract-concrete spectrum, but is markedly more important to abstract concepts (e.g. hungry, serenity) than to concrete concepts (e.g. capacity, rainy). In particular, interoception dominates emotion concepts, especially negative emotions relating to fear and sadness, moreso than other concepts of equivalent abstractness and valence. Finally, we examine whether interoceptive strength represents valuable information in conceptual content by investigating its role in concreteness effects in word recognition, and find that it enhances semantic facilitation over and above the traditional five sensory modalities. Overall, these findings suggest that interoception has comparable status to other modalities in contributing to the perceptual grounding of abstract and concrete concepts.This article is part of the theme issue 'Varieties of abstract concepts: development, use and representation in the brain'.
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:Semantic cognition is underpinned by regions involved in representing conceptual knowledge and executive control areas that provide regulation of this information according to current task requirements. Using distortion-corrected fMRI, we investigated the contributions of these two systems to abstract and concrete word comprehension. We contrasted semantic decisions made either with coherent contextual support, which encouraged retrieval of a rich conceptual representation, or with irrelevant contextual information, which instead maximised demands on control processes. Inferior prefrontal cortex was activated more when decisions were made in the presence of irrelevant context, suggesting that this region is crucial for the semantic control functions required to select appropriate aspects of meaning in the face of competing information. It also exhibited greater activation for abstract words, which reflects the fact that abstract words tend to have variable, context-dependent meanings that place higher demands on control processes. In contrast, anterior temporal regions (ATL) were most active when decisions were made with the benefit of a coherent context, suggesting a representational role. There was a graded shift in concreteness effects in this region, with dorsolateral areas particularly active for abstract words and ventromedial areas preferentially activated by concrete words. This supports the idea that concrete concepts are closely associated with visual experience and abstract concepts with auditory-verbal information; and that sub-regions of the ATL display graded specialisation for these two types of knowledge. Between these two extremes, we identified significant activations for both word types in ventrolateral ATL. This area is known to be involved in representing knowledge for concrete concepts; here we established that it is also activated by abstract concepts. These results converge with data from rTMS and neuropsychological investigations in demonstrating that representational content and task demands influence recruitment of different areas in the semantic network.