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Language and Action: Dynamics of the functional links between action verbs and motor control

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Thesis

French

ID: <10670/1.0nnizk>

Abstract

A recent perspective considers that, besides Broca's and Wernicke's areas, language understanding relies on the sensori-motor system. In this respect, exploring how action words are processed appears as a valuable approach to understand the functional links between language and action. The aim of this work was twofold: on the one hand, it aimed to determine whether processing of action words engages cortical areas also involved in motor control, and on the other hand, it aimed to evaluate the role of these regions in word retrieval. In a first study, we demonstrated different effects of word age-of-acquisition on the recognition of concrete nouns and action verbs, suggesting that partly distinct neural networks underlie the processing of these two word categories. In a second study, we examined the influence of the processing of these words on the execution of a reaching movement. Fined-grained kinematic analyses revealed interference between action verb processing and the concurrent motor performance, whereas a facilitation effect was obtained when the movement was executed subsequently to word processing. In a third study that combined electrophysiological and kinematic recordings, the influence of subliminal presentation of nouns and verbs was measured on the simultaneous preparation of a reaching movement. We demonstrated an interference effect of unconscious perception of action verbs on the motor preparation potential and on the following execution of the movement. Finally, our fourth study allowed us to evaluate the role of the motor system in action word processing, by comparing masked repeated priming effects for nouns and verbs in patients with Parkinson's disease. Our results showed a lack of priming effect only for action verbs in patients deprived of dopaminergic treatment; ingestion of L-Dopa then restored performances, since priming effects for these words in patients became comparable with those in healthy subjects. Overall, this work thus provides strong arguments supporting the existence of common neural substrates for action words and motor action, and suggests that cortical motor regions contribute to action word processing.

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