Moving the hands and feet specifically impairs working memory for arm- and leg-related action words

Zubaida Shebani, Friedemann Pulvermüller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Citations (Scopus)


Language and action systems of the human brain are functionally interwoven. Speaking about actions and understanding action-related speech sparks the motor system of the human brain and, conversely, motor system activation has an influence on the comprehension of action words and sentences. Although previous research has shown that motor systems become active when we understand language, a major question still remains whether these motor system activations are necessary for processing action words. We here report that rhythmic movements of either the hands or the feet lead to a differential impairment of working memory for concordant arm- and leg-related action words, with hand/arm movements predominantly impairing working memory for words used to speak about arm actions and foot/leg movements primarily impairing leg-related word memory. The resulting cross-over double dissociation demonstrates that body part specific and meaning-related processing resources in specific cortical motor systems are shared between overt movements and working memory for action-related words, thus documenting a genuine motor locus of semantic meaning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-231
Number of pages10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 22 2011


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Comprehension/physiology
  • Female
  • Foot/physiology
  • Hand/physiology
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term/physiology
  • Motor Cortex/physiology
  • Movement/physiology
  • Reaction Time/physiology

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