Effects of motion speed in action representations
Grounded cognition accounts of semantic representation posit that brain regions traditionally linked to perception and action play a role in grounding the semantic content of words and sentences. Sensory-motor systems are thought to support partially abstract simulations through which conceptual content is grounded. However, which details of sensory-motor experience are included in, or excluded from these simulations, is not well understood. We investigated whether sensory-motor brain regions are differentially involved depending on the speed of actions described in a sentence. We addressed this issue by examining the neural signature of relatively fast (The old lady scurried across the road) and slow (The old lady strolled across the road) action sentences. The results showed that sentences that implied fast motion modulated activity within the right posterior superior temporal sulcus and the angular and middle occipital gyri, areas associated with biological motion and action perception. Sentences that implied slow motion resulted in greater signal within the right primary motor cortex and anterior inferior parietal lobule, areas associated with action execution and planning. These results suggest that the speed of described motion influences representational content and modulates the nature of conceptual grounding. Fast motion events are represented more visually whereas motor regions play a greater role in representing conceptual content associated with slow motion.