Passive reading and motor imagery about hand actions and tool-use actions

An fMRI study

Jie Yang*, Hua Shu

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    Recent studies have shown that motor activations in action verb comprehension can be modulated by task demands (e.g., motor imagery vs. passive reading) and the specificity of action verb meaning. However, how the two factors work together to influence the involvement of the motor system during action verb comprehension is still unclear. To address the issue, the current study investigated the brain activations in motor imagery and passive reading of verbs about hand actions and tool-use actions. Three types of Chinese verbs were used, including hand-action verbs and two types of tool-use verbs emphasizing either the hand or tools information. Results indicated that all three types of verbs elicited common activations in hand motor areas during passive reading and motor imagery. Contrast analyses showed that in the hand verbs and the tool verbs where the hand information was emphasized, motor imagery elicited stronger effects than passive reading in the superior frontal gyrus, supplemental motor area and cingulate cortex that are related to motor control and regulation. For tool-use verbs emphasizing tools information, the motor imagery task elicited stronger activity than passive reading in occipital regions related to visual imagery. These results suggest that motor activations during action verb comprehension can be modulated by task demands and semantic features of action verbs. The sensorimotor simulation during language comprehension is flexible and determined by the interactions between linguistic and extralinguistic contexts.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)453-467
    Number of pages15
    JournalExperimental Brain Research
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


    • Embodied semantics
    • Hand-action verb
    • Motor imagery
    • Motor simulation
    • Passive reading
    • Tool-use verb

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