Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Reading an action verb elicits the retrieval of its associated body movements as well as its typical goal—the outcome to which it is directed. Two fMRI experiments are reported in which retrieval of goal attributes was isolated from retrieval of motoric ones by contrasting actions that are either done intentionally (e.g., drink) and thus have associated goal information or by accident (e.g., hiccup). Orthogonally, the actions also varied in their motoricity (e.g., drink vs. imagine). Across both levels of motoricity, goal-directedness influenced the activity of a portion of left posterior inferior parietal lobe (pIPL). These effects were not explicable by the grammatical properties, imageability, or amount of body movement associated with these different types of verbs. In contrast, motoricity (across levels of goal-directedness) activated primarily the left middle temporal gyrus. Furthermore, pIPL was found to be distinct from the portion of left parietal lobe implicated in theory of mind, as localized in the same participants. This is consistent with the observation that pIPL contains many functionally distinct subregions and that some of these support conceptual knowledge. The present findings illustrate that, in particular, the pIPL is involved in representing attributes of intentional actions, likely their typical goals, but not their associated body movements. This result serves to describe an attribute-selective semantic subsystem for at least one type of nonmotor aspect of action knowledge.