Nouns referring to tools and natural objects differentially modulate the motor system

Patricia M. Gough, Lucia Riggio, Fabian Chersi, Marc Sato, Leonardo Fogassi, Giovanni Buccino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While increasing evidence points to a critical role for the motor system in language processing, the focus of previous work has been on the linguistic category of verbs. Here we tested whether nouns are effective in modulating the motor system and further whether different kinds of nouns - those referring to artifacts or natural items, and items that are graspable or ungraspable - would differentially modulate the system. A Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) study was carried out to compare modulation of the motor system when subjects read nouns referring to objects which are Artificial or Natural and which are Graspable or Ungraspable. TMS was applied to the primary motor cortex representation of the first dorsal interosseous (FDI) muscle of the right hand at 150. ms after noun presentation. Analyses of Motor Evoked Potentials (MEPs) revealed that across the duration of the task, nouns referring to graspable artifacts (tools) were associated with significantly greater MEP areas. Analyses of the initial presentation of items revealed a main effect of graspability. The findings are in line with an embodied view of nouns, with MEP measures modulated according to whether nouns referred to natural objects or artifacts (tools), confirming tools as a special class of items in motor terms. Additionally our data support a difference for graspable versus non graspable objects, an effect which for natural objects is restricted to initial presentation of items.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-25
Number of pages7
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012


  • Embodied language
  • Natural objects
  • Nouns
  • TMS
  • Tools

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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