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People process concrete words, such as table, faster than abstract words, such as peace. The dual-coding theory posits that concrete words are stored in a verbal format (left hemisphere) and a pictorial format (right hemisphere), whereas abstract words are stored only in a verbal format (left hemisphere). Recently, individual differences in mental imagery skill have come to light; people who are unable to visualize have a condition called aphantasia. One question is whether people with aphantasia show an advantage for concrete words and if they also use both hemispheres to access information about concrete words. Another question is whether autistic traits influence the processing of concrete words as there are competing theories about whether autism is associated with increased or decreased mental imagery. Thus, in the current study, participants will judge the similarity of concrete words while their frontal lobe activity is monitored using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Participants will also complete the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ) to evaluate the vividness of their mental imagery, and the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire (BAPQ) to evaluate their level of autistic traits. Pilot data confirm participants were faster when judging concrete words than abstract words. Participants also judged similar concrete words to be more similar in meaning than similar abstract words. Participants with the highest imagery scores had fewer autistic traits. The current study will incorporate fNIRS to investigate whether mental imagery and autistic traits affect how concrete and abstract words are processed in the brain.
Ammazzalorso, Luke and McCarthy, Ella, "Mental Imagery: The Cognitive Processing of Concrete and Abstract Words" (2023). Psychology Summer Fellows. 13.
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