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Article #47376
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Marino BFM, Borghi AM, Buccino G, Riggio L (2017) Chained activation of the motor system during language understanding. Frontiers in Psychology, 8:199    
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Abstract
Two experiments were carried out to investigate whether and how one important characteristic of the motor system, that is its goal-directed organization in motor chains, is reflected in language processing. This possibility stems from the embodied theory of language, according to which the linguistic system re-uses the structures of the motor system. The participants were presented with nouns of common tools preceded by a pair of verbs expressing grasping or observational motor chains (i.e. grasp-to-move, grasp-to-use, look-at-to-grasp, and look-at-to-stare). They decided whether the tool mentioned in the sentence was the same as that displayed in a picture presented shortly after. A primacy of the grasp-to-use motor chain over the other motor chains in priming the participants’ performance was observed in both the experiments. More interestingly, we found that the motor information evoked by the noun was modulated by the specific motor-chain expressed by the preceding verbs. Specifically, with the grasping chain aimed at using the tool, the functional motor information prevailed over the volumetric information, and vice versa with the grasping chain aimed at moving the tool (Experiment 2). Instead, the functional and volumetric information were balanced for those motor chains that comprise at least an observational act (Experiment 1). Overall our results are in keeping with the embodied theory of language and suggest that understanding sentences expressing an action directed towards a tool drives a chained activation of the motor system