Negation in the brain: Modulating action representations

Marco Tettamanti, Rosa Manenti, Pasquale A. Della Rosa, Andrea Falini, Daniela Perani, Stefano F. Cappa, Andrea Moro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sentential negation is a universal syntactic feature of human languages that reverses the truth value expressed by a sentence. An intriguing question concerns what brain mechanisms underlie our ability to represent and understand the meaning of negative sentences. We approach this issue by investigating action-related language processing and the associated neural representations. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging we measured brain activity in 18 healthy subjects during passive listening of sentences characterized by a factorial combination of polarity (affirmative vs. negative) and concreteness (action-related vs. abstract). Negation deactivated cortical areas and the left pallidum. Compared to abstract sentences, action-related sentences activated the left-hemispheric action-representation system. Crucially, the polarity by concreteness interactions showed that the activity within the action-representation system was specifically reduced for negative action-related vs. affirmative action-related sentences (compared to abstract sentences). Accordingly, functional integration within this system as measured by Dynamic Causal Modeling was specifically weaker for negative action-related than for affirmative action-related sentences. This modulation of action representations indicates that sentential negation transiently reduces the access to mental representations of the negated information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358-367
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neurology


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