Flexibility in language action interaction: the influence of movement type: The influence of movement type

Zubaida Shebani*, Friedemann Pulvermüller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Recent neuropsychological studies in neurological patients and healthy subjects suggest a close functional relationship between the brain systems for language and action. Facilitation and inhibition effects of motor system activity on language processing have been demonstrated as well as causal effects in the reverse direction, from language processes on motor excitability or performance. However, as the documented effects between motor and language systems were sometimes facilitatory and sometimes inhibitory, the “sign” of these effects still remains to be explained. In a previous study, we reported a word-category-specific differential impairment of verbal working memory for concordant arm- and leg-related action words brought about by complex sequential movements of the hands and feet. In this article, we seek to determine whether the sign of the functional interaction between language and action systems of the human brain can be changed in a predictable manner by changing movement type. We here report that the sign of the effect of motor movement on action word memory can be reversed from interference to facilitation if, instead of complex movement sequences, simple repetitive movements are performed. Specifically, when engaged in finger tapping, subjects were able to remember relatively more arm-related action words (as compared to control conditions), thus documenting an enhancement of working memory brought about by simple hand movements. In contrast, when performing complex sequences of finger movements, an effector-specific degradation of action word memory was found. By manipulating the sign of the effect in accord with theory-driven predictions, these findings provide support for shared neural bases for motor movement and verbal working memory for action-related words and strengthen the argument that motor systems play a causal and functionally relevant role in language processing semantically related to action.

Original languageEnglish
Article number252
Pages (from-to)252
Number of pages1
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - Jun 25 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Action word
  • Motor movement
  • Motor-language interaction
  • Semantics
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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