Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Human concepts can be roughly divided into entities (prototypically referred to in language by nouns) and events (prototypically referred to in language by verbs). While much work in cognitive neuroscience has investigated how the brain represents different categories of entities, less attention has been given to the more basic distinction between entities and events. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain activity while subjects performed a conceptual matching task that required them to access knowledge of objects and actions, using either pictures or words. Since action events involve movement through space, we hypothesized that accessing knowledge of actions would cause greater activation in brain regions involved in motion or spatial processing. In comparison to objects, accessing knowledge of actions through pictures was accompanied by increased activity bilaterally in the human MT/MST and nearby regions of the lateral temporal cortex. Accessing knowledge of actions through words activated areas just anterior and dorsal to area MT/MST on the left, within the posterior aspect of the middle and superior temporal gyri. We propose that the lateral occipital temporal cortex contains a mosaic of neural regions that processes different kinds of motion, ranging from the perception of objects moving in the world to the conception of movement implied in action verbs. The lateral occipital temporal cortex mediates the perceptual and conceptual features of action events, similar to the way that the ventral occipital temporal cortex processes the perceptual and conceptual features of entities.