According to the "embodied cognition" theory and the "sensory-motor model of semantic knowledge": (a) concepts are represented in the brain in the same format in which they are constructed by the sensory-motor system and (b) various conceptual categories differ according to the weight of different kinds of information in their representation. In this study, we tried to check the second assumption by asking normal elderly subjects to subjectively evaluate the role of various perceptual, motor and language-mediated sources of knowledge in the construction of different semantic categories. Our first aim was to rate the influence of different sources of knowledge in the representation of animals, plant life and artifact categories, rather than in living and non-living beings, as many previous studies on this subject have done. We also tried to check the influence of age and stimulus modality on these evaluations of the "sources of knowledge" underlying different conceptual categories. The influence of age was checked by comparing results obtained in our group of elderly subjects with those obtained in a previous study, conducted with a similar methodology on a sample of young students. And the influence of stimulus modality was assessed by presenting the stimuli in the verbal modality to 50 subjects and in the pictorial modality to 50 other subjects. The distinction between "animals" and "plant life" in the "living" categories was confirmed by analyzing their prevalent sources of knowledge and by a cluster analysis, which allowed us to distinguish "plant life" items from animals. Furthermore, results of the study showed: (a) that our subjects considered the visual modality as the main source of knowledge for all categories taken into account; and (b) that in biological categories the next most important source of information was represented by other perceptual modalities, whereas in artifacts it was represented by the actions performed with them. Finally, age and stimulus modality did not significantly influence judgment of relevance of the sources of knowledge involved in the construction of different conceptual categories.
- action-related conceptual knowledge
- animals vs. plant-life vs. artifact categories
- interactions among sources of knowledge
- sensory-motor model of semantic knowledge
- visual-related knowledge