Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Some studies have reported that understanding concrete action-related words and sentences elicits activations of motor areas in the brain. The present fMRI study goes one step further by testing whether this is also the case for comprehension of nonfactual statements. Three linguistic structures were used (factuals, counterfactuals, and negations), referring either to actions or, as a control condition, to visual events. The results showed that action sentences elicited stronger activations than visual sentences in the SMA, extending to the primary motor area, as well as in regions generally associated with the planning and understanding of actions (left superior temporal gyrus, left and right supramarginal gyri). Also, we found stronger activations for action sentences than for visual sentences in the extrastriate body area, a region involved in the visual processing of human body movements. These action-related effects occurred not only in factuals but also in negations and counterfactuals, suggesting that brain regions involved in action understanding and planning are activated by default even when the actions are described as hypothetical or as not happening. Moreover, some of these regions overlapped with those activated during the observation of action videos, indicating that the act of understanding action language and that of observing real actions share neural networks. These results support the claim that embodied representations of linguistic meaning are important even in abstract linguistic contexts.