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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

February 2014, Vol. 26, No. 2, Pages 352-364
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00473)
© 2013 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Unconscious Automatic Brain Activation of Acoustic and Action-related Conceptual Features during Masked Repetition Priming
Article PDF (355.53 KB)

Classical theories of semantic memory assume that concepts are represented in a unitary amodal memory system. In challenging this classical view, pure or hybrid modality-specific theories propose that conceptual representations are grounded in the sensory–motor brain areas, which typically process sensory and action-related information. Although neuroimaging studies provided evidence for a functional–anatomical link between conceptual processing of sensory or action-related features and the sensory–motor brain systems, it has been argued that aspects of such sensory–motor activation may not directly reflect conceptual processing but rather strategic imagery or postconceptual elaboration. In the present ERP study, we investigated masked effects of acoustic and action-related conceptual features to probe unconscious automatic conceptual processing in isolation. Subliminal feature-specific ERP effects at frontocentral electrodes were observed, which differed with regard to polarity, topography, and underlying brain electrical sources in congruency with earlier findings under conscious viewing conditions. These findings suggest that conceptual acoustic and action representations can also be unconsciously accessed, thereby excluding any postconceptual strategic processes. This study therefore further substantiates a grounding of conceptual and semantic processing in action and perception.