Language-Driven Motor Simulation is Sensitive to Social Context


People use their bodies differently in different social situations. In Korea, Japan, and Thailand, for example, there are culture-specific conventions for how to transfer small objects. People use one hand to transfer objects to people of equal or lower social status, but two hands with people of higher status. But does individual knowledge of these conventions for how to use one’s body extend to other aspects of cognition? For instance, it is known that understanding action language involves internally simulating what it would be like to perform described actions. Do people mentally simulate actions appropriate to the social context described in a sentence? We report on a behavioral experiment, conducted with people born and raised in Korea, that investigated whether cultural practices affect the actions that people represent during language comprehension. We report evidence that motor simulations do indeed reflect social constraints on action.

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