Project 23.  Localization of verbs in the brain

Project leader: Magnus Lindgren

Project members: Magnus Lindgren, Peter Gärdenfors, Tor Endestad, Janne von Koss Torkildsen.

Time frame: The project started in 2011 and is expected to last until 2016.

Aim of project:

Previous work by, among others, Pulvermüller and his group has shown that sensorimotor areas play a crucial role in the representation of motion-related verbs. These finding have been extended to some other verbs by Kemmerer et al. A general division of verbs into manner verbs and result verbs has been proposed in linguistics. This division is supported by the semantic analysis in terms of conceptual spaces that has been developed by Gärdenfors.

The aim of the project is to directly investigate the contrast between the neural correlates of verbs denoting actions (manner) and verbs denoting consequences of actions (results). In our first fMRI experiment, we used a paradigm where each trial consisted of a triangular array of three verbs, one at the top and two at the bottom. The participant’s task was to decide, using a response button, which of the two bottom verbs was more similar in meaning (part 1) or more different in meaning (part 2) compared to the top verb. For each trial, the three verbs came from the same semantic class (either manner, result motion or result property), and the verb that differed the most from the others in meaning was only moderately different from the other two.

Preliminary results indicate that the contrast between result versus action verbs show significantly more activation in left Supplementary Motor Area, Inferior Frontal Gyrus insula, left Parietal Lobule (hlP3)) and Calcarine and Lingual Gyrus bilaterally. The reversed contrast of action versus result did not show any significant activations.

How does this project contribute to an “added value” in the CCL environment? The project is a result of cooperation within CCL that then has been extended to international collaboration. It relates closely to several of the other CCL projects.

Why is this project interesting? The contrast between manner and results verbs, which is in focus of much linguistic research has not been previously studied by brain imaging methods. If our experiments show clear results, this will have far-reaching implications for future studies of the brain activations of verb processing.

How does this project relate to the CCL Core Ideas? The study is based on the CCL core idea that acquisition of concepts and language is strongly related to other cognitive processes and to that internal simulation of perception and action is a fundamental mechanism for cognitive function.

Is the project cross-disciplinary and if it is, which disciplines are involved? The research on semantics requires competences from linguistics, cognitive science and neuropsychology.

Plans for the next semester and in the long term (incl. equipment needed): First of all, the data from the first experiment must be analyzed and written up. We then plan to design further experiments based on semantically motivated division of verb classes.