Overlapping connectivity patterns during semantic processing of abstract and concrete words revealed with multivariate Granger Causality analysis.
ABSTRACT: . 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: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: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: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: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: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.
Project description: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: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: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:The neural mechanisms that underlie generalization of treatment-induced improvements in word finding in persons with aphasia (PWA) are currently poorly understood. This study aimed to shed light on changes in functional network connectivity underlying generalization in aphasia. To this end, we used fMRI and graph theoretic analyses to examine changes in functional connectivity after a theoretically-based word-finding treatment in which abstract words were used as training items with the goal of promoting generalization to concrete words. Ten right-handed native English-speaking PWA (7 male, 3 female) ranging in age from 47 to 75 (mean=59) participated in this study. Direct training effects coincided with increased functional connectivity for regions involved in abstract word processing. Generalization effects coincided with increased functional connectivity for regions involved in concrete word processing. Importantly, similarities between training and generalization effects were noted as were differences between participants who generalized and those who did not.