ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2019, Vol. 51 ›› Issue (12): 1291-1305.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2019.01291

• Reports of Empirical Studies •     Next Articles

Effects of embodied simulation on understanding Chinese body action verbs

WANG Bin1,LI Zhirui2,WU Limei3,ZHANG Jijia1()   

  1. 1 Department of Psychology, Renmin University of China; The State Ethnic Affairs Commission Key Research Center for Language, Cultural, and Psychology; Key Research Center for National Psychology and Education, the National Education Development Center of the Ministry of Education, Beijing 100872, China
    2 Mental Health Education and Counseling Center, Huaiyin Normal University, Huaian 223300, China
    3 College of Chinese Language and Culture, Jinan University, Guangzhou 510610, China
  • Received:2019-03-27 Online:2019-12-25 Published:2019-10-21
  • Contact: Jijia ZHANG


Recent approaches on embodied cognition and theories of semantic and conceptual “grounding” have emphasized the role of perceptual and motor skills in language comprehension and action understanding. Evidence on the role of sensorimotor information in language processing has been obtained from behavioral and neuroimaging studies. These findings have been taken as a support for the claim that language is understood through sensorimotor simulations of actions and events being described. The theory on Perceptual Symbol Systems holds that the sensorimotor system participates in the language comprehension process, which is an empirical simulation of a situation through a series of complex language cues. Chinese characters may show different characteristics from English words because semantic radicals are linked with the meaning of these characters. These semantic radicals may affect the embodied effect of Chinese characters.
In the study, authors used single-character body action verbs in Chinese as experimental materials. Body action verbs are words that use body parts to perform mechanical movements. The directional semantic feature of body action verbs reflects the direction of physical space and can be perceived. Experiment 1 investigated the influence of semantic direction on the spatial judgment of an arrow direction in the motion channel under whole word priming. The repeated measurement design of 2 (Chinese character embodied direction: up/down) × 2 (arrow direction: up/down) was adopted. Thirty-five participants volunteered in this study. Experiment 2 investigated the influence of semantic orientation on the spatial judgment of letter orientation in visual channels under whole word initiation. The repeated measurement design of 2 (Chinese character direction: up/down) × 2 (letter position: up/down) design was used. Thirty-eight participants took part in this experiment. Experiment 3 investigated the embodied simulation of the semantic radical and whole character under the radical priming paradigm. Chinese body action verbs formed by semantic radicals “扌” and “?” were used as experimental materials. A within-subject design of 2 (priming type: semantic radical’s priming/control priming) × 3 (character type: consistent/inconsistent) × 3 (SOA: 43 ms/72 ms/243 ms) was used. Before the behavioral experiment, the participants were asked to hold their hands up for one minute to reinforce the bodybuilding experience of having their hands above and their feet below. Character type shows the direction and orientation between the character and its semantic radical. Consistent character type means that the character and its semantic radical have a similar direction and orientation. For example, the semantic radical “?” means “foot, ” which is below the body. Thus, “蹲” is a consistent character, whereas “跳” is an inconsistent character.
Results suggest the following: (1) When Chinese characters are in a downward semantic direction, the downward arrow is judged faster than the upward arrow. When characters are in an upward semantic direction, the direction of the arrow has a null effect. (2) Chinese characters with upward semantic movement can be used to recognize upper letters more quickly and characters with downward semantic movement can be used to recognize lower letters more quickly. (3) In the middle and late stages of Chinese character processing, the response of consistent and inconsistent Chinese characters is significantly different, indicating that the semantic radical is activated from the middle stage of the Chinese character processing until the late stage.
The present findings demonstrate the following: (1) An action-character compatibility effect is present in Chinese body movement verbs in the movement and visual channels. Understanding Chinese body movement verbs is a cross-channel embodied simulation process. (2) The semantic radical activation of the phonogram starts from the middle stage to the late stage of Chinese body action verb processing. A semantic understanding of Chinese body action verbs has an embodied simulation at the whole character and component (semantic radical) levels.

Key words: Chinese body action verbs, semantic radical, the whole character, embodied simulation

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