Language-motor interference reflected in MEG beta oscillations

Anne Klepp, Valentina Niccolai, Giovanni Buccino, Alfons Schnitzler, Katja Biermann-Ruben

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The involvement of the brain's motor system in action-related language processing can lead to overt interference with simultaneous action execution. The aim of the current study was to find evidence for this behavioural interference effect and to investigate its neurophysiological correlates using oscillatory MEG analysis. Subjects performed a semantic decision task on single action verbs, describing actions executed with the hands or the feet, and abstract verbs. Right hand button press responses were given for concrete verbs only. Therefore, longer response latencies for hand compared to foot verbs should reflect interference. We found interference effects to depend on verb imageability: overall response latencies for hand verbs did not differ significantly from foot verbs. However, imageability interacted with effector: while response latencies to hand and foot verbs with low imageability were equally fast, those for highly imageable hand verbs were longer than for highly imageable foot verbs. The difference is reflected in motor-related MEG beta band power suppression, which was weaker for highly imageable hand verbs compared with highly imageable foot verbs. This provides a putative neuronal mechanism for language-motor interference where the involvement of cortical hand motor areas in hand verb processing interacts with the typical beta suppression seen before movements. We found that the facilitatory effect of higher imageability on action verb processing time is perturbed when verb and motor response relate to the same body part. Importantly, this effect is accompanied by neurophysiological effects in beta band oscillations. The attenuated power suppression around the time of movement, reflecting decreased cortical excitability, seems to result from motor simulation during action-related language processing. This is in line with embodied cognition theories.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)438-448
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2015


  • Action verbs
  • Beta oscillations
  • Embodied cognition
  • Imageability
  • Interference
  • MEG

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neurology
  • Medicine(all)


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