Exploring the relationship between semantics and space

Patrizia Turriziani, Massimiliano Oliveri, Sonia Bonnì, Giacomo Koch, Daniela Smirni, Lisa Cipolotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The asymmetric distribution of human spatial attention has been repeatedly documented in both patients and healthy controls. Biases in the distribution of attention and/or in the mental representation of space may also affect some aspects of language processing. We investigated whether biases in attention and/or mental representation of space affect semantic representations. In particular, we investigated whether semantic judgments could be modulated by the location in space where the semantic information was presented and the role of the left and right parietal cortices in this task. Healthy subjects were presented with three pictures arranged horizontally (one middle and two outer pictures) of items belonging to the same semantic category. Subjects were asked to indicate the spatial position in which the semantic distance between the outer and middle pictures was smaller. Subjects systematically overestimated the semantic distance of items presented in the right side of space. We explored the neural correlates underpinning this bias using rTMS over the left and right parietal cortex. rTMS of the left parietal cortex selectively reduced this rightward bias. Our findings suggest the existence of an attentional and/ or mental representational bias in semantic judgments, similar to that observed for the processing of space and numbers. Spatial manipulation of semantic material results in the activation of specialised attentional resources located in the left hemisphere.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere5319
JournalPLoS One
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 27 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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