Modulation of arm reaching movements during processing of arm/hand-related action verbs with and without emotional connotation

Silvia Spadacenta, Vittorio Gallese, Michele Fragola, Giovanni Mirabella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The theory of embodied language states that language comprehension relies on an internal reenactment of the sensorimotor experience associated with the processed word or sentence. Most evidence in support of this hypothesis had been collected using linguistic material without any emotional connotation. For instance, it had been shown that processing of arm-related verbs, but not of those leg-related verbs, affects the planning and execution of reaching movements; however, at present it is unknown whether this effect is further modulated by verbs evoking an emotional experience. Showing such a modulation might shed light on a very debated issue, i.e. the way in which the emotional meaning of a word is processed. To this end, we assessed whether processing arm/hand-related verbs describing actions with negative connotations (e.g. to stab) affects reaching movements differently from arm/hand-related verbs describing actions with neutral connotation (e.g. to comb). We exploited a go/no-go paradigm in which healthy participants were required to perform arm-reaching movements toward a target when verbs expressing emotional hand actions, neutral hand actions or foot actions were shown, and to refrain from moving when no-effector-related verbs were presented. Reaction times and percentages of errors increased when the verb involved the same effector as used to give the response. However, we also found that the size of this interference decreased when the arm/hand-related verbs had a negative emotional connotation. Crucially, we show that such modulation only occurred when the verb semantics had to be retrieved. These results suggest that the comprehension of negatively valenced verbs might require the simultaneous reenactment of the neural circuitry associated with the processing of the emotion evoked by their meaning and of the neural circuitry associated with their motor features.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere104349
JournalPLoS One
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 5 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

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