Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
There is a lively and theoretically important debate about whether, how, and when embodiment contributes to language comprehension. This study addressed these questions by testing how interference with facial action impacts the brain's real-time response to emotional language. Participants read sentences about positive and negative events (e.g., “She reached inside the pocket of her coat from last winter and found some (cash/bugs) inside it.”) while ERPs were recorded. Facial action was manipulated within participants by asking participants to hold chopsticks in their mouths using a position that allowed or blocked smiling, as confirmed by EMG. Blocking smiling did not influence ERPs to the valenced words (e.g., cash, bugs) but did influence ERPs to final words of sentences describing positive events. Results show that affectively positive sentences can evoke smiles and that such facial action can facilitate the semantic processing indexed by the N400 component. Overall, this study offers causal evidence that embodiment impacts some aspects of high-level comprehension, presumably involving the construction of the situation model.