Saygin, A.P., McCullough, S., Alac, M., Emmorey, K. (2010). Modulation of BOLD response in motion sensitive lateral temporal cortex by real and fictive motion sentences. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22(11), pp. 2480-90. (Download)
Can linguistic semantics affect neural processing in feature specific visual regions? Specifically, when we hear a sentence describing a situation that includes motion, do we engage neural processes that are part of the visual perception of motion? How about if a motion verb was used figuratively, not literally? We used fMRI to investigate whether semantic content can “penetrate” and modulate neural populations that are selective to specific visual properties during natural language comprehension. Participants were presented audiovisually with three kinds of sentences: motion sentences (“The wild horse crossed the barren field.”), static sentences, (“The black horse stood in the barren field.”), and fictive motion sentences (“The hiking trail crossed the barren field.”). Motion-sensitive visual areas (MT+) were localized individually in each participant as well as face selective visual regions (fusiform face area; FFA). MT+ was activated significantly more for motion sentences than the other sentence types. Fictive motion sentences also activated MT+ more than the static sentences. Importantly, no modulation of neural responses was found in FFA. Our findings suggest that the neural substrates of linguistic semantics include early visual areas specifically related to the represented semantics and that figurative uses of motion verbs also engage these neural systems, but to a lesser extent. These data are consistent with a view of language comprehension as an embodied process, with neural substrates as far reaching as early sensory brain areas that are specifically related to the represented semantics.