Understanding of action-related and abstract verbs in comparison: A behavioral and TMS study

Alessandro Innocenti, Elisa De Stefani, Mariateresa Sestito, Maurizio Gentilucci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Does the comprehension of both action-related and abstract verbs rely on motor simulation? In a behavioral experiment, in which a semantic task was used, response times to hand-action-related verbs were briefer than those to abstract verbs and both decreased with repetition of presentation. In a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) experiment, single-pulse stimulation was randomly delivered over hand motor area of the left primary motor cortex to measure cortical-spinal excitability at 300 or 500 ms after verb presentation. Two blocks of trials were run. In each block, the same verbs were randomly presented. In the first block, stimulation induced an increase in motor evoked potentials only when TMS was applied 300 ms after action-related verb presentation. In the second block, no modulation of motor cortex was found according to type of verb and stimulation-delay. These results confirm that motor simulation can be used to understand action rather than abstract verbs. Moreover, they suggest that with repetition, the semantic processing for action verbs does not require activation of primary motor cortex anymore.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-92
Number of pages8
JournalCognitive Processing
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • Abstract verb
  • Action verb
  • Embodied cognition
  • Motor evoked potential
  • Motor simulation
  • Semantics
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence


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