Investigating grounded conceptualization: motor system state-dependence facilitates familiarity judgments of novel tools.


Department of Psychology, University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way, Prince George, BC, Canada. [Email]


Theories of embodied cognition propose that we recognize tools in part by reactivating sensorimotor representations of tool use in a process of simulation. If motor simulations play a causal role in tool recognition then performing a concurrent motor task should differentially modulate recognition of experienced vs. non-experienced tools. We sought to test the hypothesis that an incompatible concurrent motor task modulates conceptual processing of learned vs. non-learned objects by directly manipulating the embodied experience of participants. We trained one group to use a set of novel, 3-D printed tools under the pretense that they were preparing for an archeological expedition to Mars (manipulation group); we trained a second group to report declarative information about how the tools are stored (storage group). With this design, familiarity and visual attention to different object parts was similar for both groups, though their qualitative interactions differed. After learning, participants made familiarity judgments of auditorily presented tool names while performing a concurrent motor task or simply sitting at rest. We showed that familiarity judgments were facilitated by motor state-dependence; specifically, in the manipulation group, familiarity was facilitated by a concurrent motor task, whereas in the spatial group familiarity was facilitated while sitting at rest. These results are the first to directly show that manipulation experience differentially modulates conceptual processing of familiar vs. unfamiliar objects, suggesting that embodied representations contribute to recognizing tools.