- Concepts in context: processing mental state concepts with internal or external focus involves different neural systems
- Social Neuroscience
- Volume | Issue number
- 10 | 3
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
According to embodied cognition theories, concepts are contextually situated and grounded in neural systems that produce experiential states. This view predicts that processing mental state concepts recruits neural regions associated with different aspects of experience depending on the context in which people understand a concept. This neuroimaging study tested this prediction using a set of sentences that described emotional (e.g., fear, joy) and nonemotional (e.g., thinking, hunger) mental states with internal focus (i.e., focusing on bodily sensations and introspection) or external focus (i.e., focusing on expression and action). Consistent with our predictions, data suggested that the inferior frontal gyrus, a region associated with action representation, was engaged more by external than internal sentences. By contrast, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a region associated with the generation of internal states, was engaged more by internal emotion sentences than external sentence categories. Similar patterns emerged when we examined the relationship between neural activity and independent ratings of sentence focus. Furthermore, ratings of emotion were associated with activation in the medial prefrontal cortex, whereas ratings of activity were associated with activation in the inferior frontal gyrus. These results suggest that mental state concepts are represented in a dynamic way, using context-relevant interoceptive and sensorimotor resources.
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