Discriminating Taxonomic Categories and Domains in Mental Simulations of Concepts of Varying Concreteness

Andrew J. Anderson, Brian Murphy, Massimo Poesio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Most studies of conceptual knowledge in the brain focus on a narrow range of concrete conceptual categories, rely on the researchers' intuitions about which object belongs to these categories, and assume a broadly taxonomic organization of knowledge. In this fMRI study, we focus on concepts with a variety of concreteness levels; we use a state of the art lexical resource (WordNet 3.1) as the source for a relatively large number of category distinctions and compare a taxonomic style of organization with a domain-based model (associating concepts with scenarios). Participants mentally simulated situations associated with concepts when cued by text stimuli. Using multivariate pattern analysis, we find evidence that all Taxonomic categories and Domains can be distinguished from fMRI data and also observe a clear concreteness effect: Tools and Locations can be reliably predicted for unseen participants, but less concrete categories (e.g., Attributes, Communications, Events, Social Roles) can only be reliably discriminated within participants. A second concreteness effect relates to the interaction of Domain and Taxonomic category membership: Domain (e.g., relation to Law vs. Music) can be better predicted for less concrete categories. We repeated the analysis within anatomical regions, observing discrimination between all/most categories in the left middle occipital and temporal gyri, and more specialized discrimination for concrete categories Tool and Location in the left precentral and fusiform gyri, respectively. Highly concrete/abstract Taxonomic categories and Domain were segregated in frontal regions. We conclude that both Taxonomic and Domain class distinctions are relevant for interpreting neural structuring of concrete and abstract concepts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)658-681
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of cognitive neuroscience
Issue number3
Early online date31 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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