On the roles of form systematicity and sensorimotor effects in language processing


Grounded or embodied cognition research has employed body–object interaction (BOI; e.g., Pexman et al., 2019) ratings to investigate sensorimotor effects during language processing. We investigated relationships between BOI ratings and nonarbitrary statistical mappings between words’ phonological forms and their syntactic category in English; i.e., form systematicity. In Study 1, principal components analysis revealed that BOI and form systematicity measures load on a common component, indicating they convey similar information about the probability of a word belonging to a particular syntactic category. In Studies 2, 3, and 4, form systematicity measures were stronger predictors of English Lexicon Project (ELP; Balota et al., 2007), Auditory English Lexicon Project (AELP; Goh et al., 2020), and English Crowdsourcing Project (ECP; Mandera et al., 2020) performance than BOI. In Study 5, BOI was a stronger predictor of performance from the Calgary Semantic Decision Project (CSDP; Pexman et al., 2017) than form systematicity. In Study 6, only form systematicity significantly predicted performance from the LinguaPix object naming megastudy (Krautz & Keuleers, 2022). Together, these results demonstrate that nonarbitrary statistical relationships in the form of mappings between ortho-phonological information and meaning are accessed automatically during language processing; i.e., even when syntactic category is not relevant to the task, and that sensorimotor simulation mechanisms are only strongly engaged when explicitly demanded by the task. We discuss the implications of these findings for proposals of embodied or grounded cognition and interpretations of neuroimaging data from word recognition tasks.

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 49(3), 431-444