The role of personal experience in the neural processing of action-related language

Ian M. Lyons, Andrew Mattarella-Micke, Matthew Cieslak, Howard C. Nusbaum, Steven L. Small, Sian L. Beilock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


We investigated how auditory language processing is modified by a listener's previous experience with the specific activities mentioned in the speech. In particular, we asked whether neural responses related to language processing depend on one's experience with the action-based content of this language. Ice-hockey players and novices passively listened to sentences about ice-hockey and everyday situations during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). When listening to action-related sentences, neural activation in left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and left dorsal premotor cortex (PMd) depended on one's actual (physical) experience with the action described in the sentence: hockey experts showed greater activity in these regions than novices for hockey sentences, but not for everyday-action sentences. Thus, personal experience with linguistic content modulated activity both in regions associated with language comprehension (IFG) and in those related to complex action planning (PMd). Moreover, hockey experts (who have extensive experience with both hockey and everyday situations) showed greater activity in left IFG regions for hockey relative to everyday sentences. This suggests that the degree to which one finds information personally relevant (i.e., over and above one's direct experience with it) also modulates processing in brain regions related to semantic-level processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)214-222
Number of pages9
JournalBrain and language
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Action language
  • Experience
  • Expertise
  • Personal relevance
  • Speech comprehension
  • Sports expertise

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Speech and Hearing


Dive into the research topics of 'The role of personal experience in the neural processing of action-related language'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this