chapter  3
The role of sensorimotor processes in meaning composition
ByBarbara Kaup, Irmgard de la Vega, Jessica Strozyk and Carolin Dudschig
Pages 25

The idea that cognition might not be based on the manipulation of amodal, arbitrary, and abstract symbols, but rather involves activating and combining sensorimotor experiences, has had a great impact on research in cognitive science, as indicated by the rapidly increasing number of studies published in this area during recent years (see Chatterjee, 2010). This so-called ‘embodied-cognition framework’ has sparked numerous studies in the fields of philosophy, cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, social psychology, and developmental psychology, among others (Barsalou, 2010). One of the areas in which this idea has been especially fruitful is cognitive psychology, and particularly the field of language processing. Here, the assumption is that sensorimotor processes play a crucial role for comprehension. When people read or hear a word, a phrase, or a sentence, they mentally simulate the respective objects, situations, and events. Comprehension is thus assumed to be tantamount to simulating experiences (Barsalou, 1999; Zwaan, 2014). More specifically, because in our everyday life words often co-occur with the objects or situations they refer to, these words become associated with the sensorimotor experiences that are perceived during interacting with these entities. As a consequence, when people later hear or read the words without the objects or the situation being present, the respective experiential traces will be re-activated. When the words appear in larger phrases or sentences, the re-activated traces are presumably combined to yield simulations that are consistent with the meaning of the larger phrase or sentence (Zwaan & Madden, 2005). To date, there is a large number of studies that provide evidence for this so-called ‘experientialsimulations view of comprehension’. These studies seem to suggest that readers and listeners indeed activate experiential traces stemming from previous experiences with the described objects, situations, and events during comprehension.