Manual Experience With an Object Shapes Its Meaning

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The sensorimotor-based theories posit that the brain becomes activated in the same brain regions when people perceive and interact with an object, and when they store its meaning. Therefore, having an experience with an object should shape its meaning (Yee et al., 2013).

For example, thinking about a manipulable object will result in brain activity in motor areas (premotor cortex), since manipulable objects such as a pencil involve motion. As a result, activity in brain regions that are involved in motor activity will affect people’s ability to think about manipulable objects.

Different objects have different meanings. For example, the meaning of a fish is represented in brain regions that process vision and taste, provided that you have experience with seeing and tasting a fish. Having a manual experience with an object, may result in a greater mental representation of the object.

For this reason, it should vary between individuals how they shape their meanings depending on how much experience they have had. Manual experience is probably not the only way to form meanings. Visual, auditory, olfactory experiences may likewise form meanings (concepts) of objects.

A study by Yee and colleagues (2013) found that if you engage motor brain regions with a manual activity, it may interfere with the ability to think about a manipulable object, if the manual activity is different (i.e., incompatible) from the manipulable object that you have to think about.

The amount of experience you have with an object may predict the degree of interference. These findings suggest that we form the meanings of objects from the (manual) experiences we have with  such objects.

Photo: Moyan Brenn

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