Decoding abstract and concrete concept representations based on single-trial fMRI data.
ABSTRACT: Previously, multi-voxel pattern analysis has been used to decode words referring to concrete object categories. In this study we investigated if single-trial-based brain activity was sufficient to distinguish abstract (e.g., mercy) versus concrete (e.g., barn) concept representations. Multiple neuroimaging studies have identified differences in the processing of abstract versus concrete concepts based on the averaged activity across time by using univariate methods. In this study we used multi-voxel pattern analysis to decode functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data when participants perform a semantic similarity judgment task on triplets of either abstract or concrete words with similar meanings. Classifiers were trained to identify individual trials as concrete or abstract. Cross-validated accuracies for classifying trials as abstract or concrete were significantly above chance (P < 0.05) for all participants. Discriminating information was distributed in multiple brain regions. Moreover, accuracy of identifying single trial data for any one participant as abstract or concrete was also reliably above chance (P < 0.05) when the classifier was trained solely on data from other participants. These results suggest abstract and concrete concepts differ in representations in terms of neural activity patterns during a short period of time across the whole brain.
Project description:Prior work decoding linguistic meaning from imaging data has been largely limited to concrete nouns, using similar stimuli for training and testing, from a relatively small number of semantic categories. Here we present a new approach for building a brain decoding system in which words and sentences are represented as vectors in a semantic space constructed from massive text corpora. By efficiently sampling this space to select training stimuli shown to subjects, we maximize the ability to generalize to new meanings from limited imaging data. To validate this approach, we train the system on imaging data of individual concepts, and show it can decode semantic vector representations from imaging data of sentences about a wide variety of both concrete and abstract topics from two separate datasets. These decoded representations are sufficiently detailed to distinguish even semantically similar sentences, and to capture the similarity structure of meaning relationships between sentences.
Project description:In several behavioral psycholinguistic studies, it has been shown that concrete words are processed more efficiently. They can be remembered faster, recognized better, and can be learned easier than abstract words. This fact is called concreteness effect. There are fMRI studies which compared the neural representations of concrete and abstract concepts in terms of activated regions. In the present study, a comparison has been made between the condition-specific connectivity of functional networks (obtained by group ICA) during imagery of abstract and concrete words. The obtained results revealed that the functional network connectivity between three pairs of networks during concrete imagery is significantly different from that of abstract imagery (FDR correction at the significance level of 0.05). These results suggest that abstract and concrete concepts have different representations in terms of functional network connectivity pattern. Remarkably, in all of these network pairs, the connectivity during concrete imagery is significantly higher than that of abstract imagery. These more coherent networks include both linguistic and visual regions with a higher engagement of the right hemisphere, so the results are in line with dual coding theory. Additionally, these three pairs of networks include the contrasting regions which have shown stronger activation either in concrete or abstract word processing in former studies. The findings imply that the brain is more integrated and synchronized at the time of concrete imagery and it may explain the reason of faster concrete words processing. In order to validate the results, we used functional network connectivity distributions (FNCD). Wilcoxon rank-sum test was used to check if the abstract and concrete FNCDs extracted from whole subjects are the same. The result revealed that the corresponding distributions are different which indicates two different patterns of connectivity for abstract and concrete word processing. Also, the mean of FNCD is significantly higher at the time of concrete imagery than that of abstract imagery. Furthermore, FNCDs at the single-subject level are significantly more left-skewed or equally, include more strong connectivity for concrete imagery.
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:The vast majority of brain-injured patients with semantic impairment have better comprehension of concrete than abstract words. In contrast, several patients with semantic dementia (SD), who show circumscribed atrophy of the anterior temporal lobes bilaterally, have been reported to show reverse imageability effects, that is, relative preservation of abstract knowledge. Although these reports largely concern individual patients, some researchers have recently proposed that superior comprehension of abstract concepts is a characteristic feature of SD. This would imply that the anterior temporal lobes are particularly crucial for processing sensory aspects of semantic knowledge, which are associated with concrete not abstract concepts. However, functional neuroimaging studies of healthy participants do not unequivocally predict reverse imageability effects in SD because the temporal poles sometimes show greater activation for more abstract concepts. The authors examined a case-series of 11 SD patients on a synonym judgment test that orthogonally varied the frequency and imageability of the items. All patients had higher success rates for more imageable as well as more frequent words, suggesting that (1) the anterior temporal lobes underpin semantic knowledge for both concrete and abstract concepts, (2) more imageable items--perhaps because of their richer multimodal representations--are typically more robust in the face of global semantic degradation and (3) reverse imageability effects are not a characteristic feature of SD.
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: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:words refer to concepts that cannot be directly experienced through our senses (e.g. truth, morality). How we ground the meanings of abstract words is one of the deepest problems in cognitive science today. We investigated this question in an experiment in which 62 participants were asked to communicate the meanings of words (20 abstract nouns, e.g. impulse; 10 concrete nouns, e.g. insect) to a partner without using the words themselves (the taboo task). We analysed the speech and associated gestures that participants used to communicate the meaning of each word in the taboo task. Analysis of verbal and gestural data yielded a number of insights. When communicating about the meanings of abstract words, participants' speech referenced more people and introspections. In contrast, the meanings of concrete words were communicated by referencing more objects and entities. Gesture results showed that when participants spoke about abstract word meanings their speech was accompanied by more metaphorical and beat gestures, and speech about concrete word meanings was accompanied by more iconic gestures. Taken together, the results suggest that abstract meanings are best captured by a model that allows dynamic access to multiple representation systems.This article is part of the theme issue 'Varieties of abstract concepts: development, use and representation in the brain'.
Project description:Recent theories propose that abstract concepts, compared to concrete ones, might activate to a larger extent interoceptive, social and linguistic experiences. At the same time, recent research has underlined the importance of investigating how different sub-kinds of abstract concepts are represented. We report a pre-registered experiment, preceded by a pilot study, in which we asked participants to evaluate the difficulty of 3 kinds of concrete concepts (natural objects, tools, and food concepts) and abstract concepts (Philosophical and Spiritual concepts, PS, Physical Space Time and Quantity concepts, PSTQ, and Emotional, Mental State and Social concepts, EMSS). While rating the words, participants were assigned to different conditions designed to interfere with conceptual processing: they were required to squeeze a ball (hand motor system activation), to chew gum (mouth motor system activation), to self-estimate their heartbeats (interoception), and to perform a motor articulatory task (inner speech involvement). In a control condition they simply rated the difficulty of words. A possible interference should result in the increase of the difficulty ratings. Bayesian analyses reveal that, compared to concrete ones, abstract concepts are more grounded in interoceptive experience and concrete concepts less in linguistic experience (mouth motor system involvement), and that the experience on which different kinds of abstract and concrete concepts differs widely. For example, within abstract concepts interoception plays a major role for EMSS and PS concepts, while the ball squeezing condition interferes more for PSTQ concepts, confirming that PSTQ are the most concrete among abstract concepts, and tap into sensorimotor manual experience. Implications of the results for current theories of conceptual representation are discussed.
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.