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The cortical distribution and interaction of semantic knowledge

Goldberg, Robert F (2005) The cortical distribution and interaction of semantic knowledge. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Concepts are considered to be the building blocks of human higher-order cognition. Yet theories differ according to how these semantic representations are instantiated within the brain. The amodal characteristics of word meaning imply that this knowledge is stored independent of perceptual experiences. However, mounting evidence suggests that concepts depend upon cortical regions typically ascribed to sensory input. This embodiment of semantic representations through perceptual mechanisms can crucially explain the relationship between the meaning conveyed by words and experience with the associated objects. Across two experiments, this research used functional MRI to examine the role of sensory and prefrontal brain regions while participants verified semantic properties (e.g., sounds loud?; lays eggs?) of word items. The results show that perceptual properties activate the predicted cortical regions associated with vision, audition, taste and smell, and touch. Increased response times for these perceptual decisions were not associated with increased activity in the identified sensory areas but were associated with increased activity in prefrontal brain regions. In contrast, more abstract semantic decisions led to increased activity in the prefrontal cortex but no such increases were seen for the more difficult decisions. These findings indicate that multiple and widely distributed brain regions used to encode perceptual experiences also support semantic knowledge of those sensory experiences. The prefrontal cortex may represent abstract knowledge and control retrieval with increasing semantic demands for decisions further removed from perceptual experiences.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Goldberg, Robert
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairPerfetti, Charles Aperfetti@pitt.eduPERFETTI
Committee MemberMcClelland, James
Committee MemberFiez, Julie Afiez@pitt.eduFIEZ
Committee MemberBarsalou, Lawrence
Committee MemberSchneider, Walterwws@pitt.eduWWS
Date: 4 February 2005
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 29 October 2004
Approval Date: 4 February 2005
Submission Date: 10 December 2004
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: category; embodiment; fMRI; property; imagery; neuroimaging
Other ID:, etd-12102004-161428
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 20:10
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:54


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