Processing Chinese hand-radicals activates the medial frontal gyrus: A functional MRI investigation*

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Abstract

Research Highlights

(1) Participants underwent functional MRI imaging while reading Chinese action verbs to elucidate the semantic representation of Chinese radicals.

Research Highlights

(2) Reading characters with hand-radicals activated the right medial frontal gyrus.

Research Highlights

(3) Verbs involving hand-action activated the left inferior parietal lobule, possibly reflecting integration of information in the radical with the semantic meaning of the verb.

Research Highlights

(4) This study enhanced our understanding of the neural substrates underlying the process of reading in Chinese, with potential benefits for the development of treatments for dyslexia.

Embodied semantics theory asserts that the meaning of action-related words is neurally represented through networks that overlap with or are identical to networks involved in sory-motor processing. While some studies supporting this theory have focused on Chinese characters, less attention has been paid to their semantic radicals. Indeed, there is still disagreement about whether these radicals are processed independently. The present study investigated whether radicals are processed separately and, if so, whether this processing occurs in sensory-motor gions. Materials consisted of 72 high-frequency Chinese characters, with 18 in each of four ries: hand-action verbs with and without hand-radicals, and verbs not related to hand actions, with and without hand-radicals. Twenty-eight participants underwent functional MRI scans while reading the characters. Compared to characters without hand-radicals, reading characters with hand-radicals activated the right medial frontal gyrus. Verbs involving hand-action activated the left inferior parietal lobule, possibly reflecting integration of information in the radical with the semantic meaning of the verb. The findings may be consistent with embodied semantics theory and suggest that neural representation of radicals is indispensable in processing Chinese characters.

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