From action to abstraction: The sensorimotor grounding of metaphor in Parkinson’s disease.

Humphries, Stacey; Klooster, Nathaniel; Cardillo, Eileen; Weintraub, Daniel; Rick, Jacqueline and Chatterjee, Anjan. 2019. From action to abstraction: The sensorimotor grounding of metaphor in Parkinson’s disease. Cortex, 121, pp. 368-384. ISSN 0010-9452 [Article]

nihms-1543426.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (1MB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

Embodied cognition theories propose that the semantic representations engaged in during language comprehension are partly supported by perceptual and motor systems, via simulation. Activation in modality-specific regions of cortex is associated with the comprehension of literal language that describes the analogous modalities, but studies addressing the grounding of nonliteral or figurative language, such as metaphors, have yielded mixed results. Differences in the psycholinguistic characteristics of sentence stimuli across studies have likely contributed to this lack of consensus. Furthermore, previous studies have been largely correlational, whilst patient studies are a critical way of determining if intact sensorimotor function is necessary to understand language drawing on sensorimotor information. We designed a battery of metaphorical and literal sentence stimuli using action and sound words, with an unprecedented level of control over critical psycholinguistic variables, to test hypotheses about the grounding of metaphorical language. In this Registered Report, we assessed the comprehension of these sentences in 41 patients with Parkinson’s disease, who were predicted to be disproportionately affected by the action sentences relative to the sound sentences, and compared their performance to that of 39 healthy age-matched controls who were predicted to show no difference in performance due to sensory modality. Using preregistered Bayesian model comparison methods, we found that PD patients’ comprehension of literal action sentences was not impaired, while there was some evidence for a slowing of responses to action metaphors. Follow up exploratory analyses suggest that this response time modality effect was driven by one type of metaphor (predicate) and was absent in another (nominal), despite the fact that the action semantics were similar in both syntactic forms. These results suggest that the conditions under which PD patients demonstrate hypothesized embodiment effects are limited. We offer a critical assessment of the PD action language literature and discuss implications for the embodiment debate. In addition, we suggest how future studies could leverage Bayesian statistical methods to provide more convincing evidence for or against embodied cognition effects.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):

Additional Information:

Open practices: The study in this article earned Open Materials, Open Data and Preregistered badges for transparent practices. Materials and data for the study are available at

Acknowledgements: This research was supported by NIH grant 5R01DC012511 awarded to AC.


Embodied cognition; Parkinson’s disease; metaphor; simulation; abstraction

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



6 September 2019Accepted
31 October 2019Published Online
December 2019Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

05 Jan 2023 13:28

Last Modified:

06 Jan 2023 10:02

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)