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Interactions between sentence comprehension and concurrent action: The role of movement effects and timing


Diefenbach,  Christiane
Department Psychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Diefenbach, C. (2010). Interactions between sentence comprehension and concurrent action: The role of movement effects and timing. PhD Thesis, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0011-2E0C-E
Embodied approaches to language comprehension suggest that we understand sentences by using our perception and action systems for simulating their contents. In line with this assumption, the action-sentence compatibility effect (ACE) shows that sensibility judgments for sentences are faster when the direction of the described action matches the direction of the response movement. The aim of this thesis was to investigate whether this compatibility is effective between sentence direction and movement direction or between sentence direction and the direction of the movement effect. To this end, movements were dissociated from their effects in several experiments. Participants indicated whether sentences describing transfer actions toward or away from the body are sensible or not by producing a movement effect on a screen at a location near the body or far from the body. These movement effects were achieved by moving the hand from a middle button to a near or far button, i.e., toward the body or away from the body. In one condition, a movement effect resulted from pressing the button whose location corresponded with the location of the effect. Crucially for the above research question, there was another condition in which an action effect resulted from pressing the button at the opposite location. Since in the first series of experiments, the ACE turned out to be unreliable and in part seemed to be reversed, it was difficult to address the initial question. Therefore, a second series of experiments additionally investigated the role of timing between response preparation and sentence comprehension as a potential cause of the negative ACE. Results showed a positive ACE when the same directional feature was concurrently activated within the two processes, leading to priming between them. A negative ACE appeared when the directional feature was already bound into the sentence representation and thus was less accessible when needed for response preparation. In both cases, the ACE was related to the movement effect. These results suggest that the ACE occurs on the higher level of cognitive representations referring to distal information.