Linguistic and embodied systems in conceptual processing: Variation across individuals and items

Mon, May 24, 2021
Lancaster University Postgraduate Psychology Conference 2021 (see YouTube playlist)




Research in conceptual processing has suggested that the comprehension of words draws on complementary cognitive systems. In the milliseconds during which a word is processed, the linguistic system is activated first. Reading the word entity, for instance, may activate words such as being, thing and object (; De Deyne et al., 2019). Thereupon, the embodied system is activated, incorporating sensorimotor, emotional and social dimensions (Borghi et al., 2019). For instance, entity activates visual, auditory and head-specific meanings (; Lynott et al., 2020). Research has also suggested that the linguistic system is more important for relatively abstract words—e.g., attempt—, whereas the embodied system is more important for more concrete words—e.g., building (Bolognesi & Steen, 2018). The role of individual differences has also been investigated (Dils & Boroditsky, 2010), although to a lesser extent. An individual’s linguistic experience (e.g., larger vocabulary) facilitates word processing and task-relevant attention (Pexman & Yap, 2018; Yap et al., 2017), while greater sensorimotor experience enables more detailed meaning activation within specific conceptual areas (e.g., space: Vukovic & Williams, 2015). The variation across individuals and items, within both the linguistic and embodied systems, is seldom considered simultaneously. We are undertaking this in two studies. The first study (Bernabeu et al., 2021) will merge existing datasets (Lynott et al., 2020; Pexman et al., 2017; Pexman & Yap, 2018; Wingfield & Connell, 2019). The second study will collect novel data to investigate questions such as the unique roles of vocabulary size, sensorimotor experience and attentional control. To determine the sample size for the latter study, two pilot studies with larger-than-average samples were conducted, using the aforementioned datasets and that of Hutchison et al. (2013). Simulation-based, prospective power curves were performed. These pilots revealed important roles for linguistic and embodied information, vocabulary size, and attentional control, as well as statistical power considerations.


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Wingfield, C., & Connell, L. (2019). Understanding the role of linguistic distributional knowledge in cognition. PsyArXiv.

Yap, M. J., Hutchison, K. A., & Tan, L. C. (2017). Individual differences in semantic priming performance: Insights from the semantic priming project. In M. N. Jones (Ed.), Frontiers of cognitive psychology. Big data in cognitive science (p. 203–226). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

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