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"Embodied semantics in autism spectrum conditions"

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The embodied semantics framework suggests that conceptual knowledge is represented in a modal fashion in the perceptual and action systems of the brain which are activated when we perceive and interact with concepts in the world. Consequently, the motor system and occipitotemporal ventral processing stream are typically activated by action- and object-related words respectively. Whether such differential organisation of word categories arises in the autistic brain is highly questionable. We hypothesised that due to reported abnormalities in neural connectivity, relative strengths in visual processing and contrasting deficits in movement and action perception, people with ASC would show a particular abnormality in the representation of action words. Eighteen typically-developed controls and eighteen subjects with ASC took part in a silent reading task during event-related fMRI in which they read different types of action-related, visually-related and abstract words. Our prediction held true: whilst they showed considerable overlap with controls in the representation of visual object words, the ASC group showed a specific lack of activation in the frontocentral motor system for action words. We here discuss the implications of these findings on word processing, semantic representation and the brain in ASC .

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