Brain Topography

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 591–605 | Cite as

Interaction Between Words and Symbolic Gestures as Revealed By N400

  • Maddalena Fabbri-DestroEmail author
  • Pietro Avanzini
  • Elisa De Stefani
  • Alessandro Innocenti
  • Cristina Campi
  • Maurizio Gentilucci
Original Paper


What happens if you see a person pronouncing the word “go” after having gestured “stop”? Differently from iconic gestures, that must necessarily be accompanied by verbal language in order to be unambiguously understood, symbolic gestures are so conventionalized that they can be effortlessly understood in the absence of speech. Previous studies proposed that gesture and speech belong to a unique communication system. From an electrophysiological perspective the N400 modulation was considered the main variable indexing the interplay between two stimuli. However, while many studies tested this effect between iconic gestures and speech, little is known about the capability of an emblem to modulate the neural response to subsequently presented words. Using high-density EEG, the present study aimed at evaluating the presence of an N400 effect and its spatiotemporal dynamics, in terms of cortical activations, when emblems primed the observation of words. Participants were presented with symbolic gestures followed by a semantically congruent or incongruent verb. A N400 modulation was detected, showing larger negativity when gesture and words were incongruent. The source localization during N400 time window evidenced the activation of different portions of temporal cortex according to the gesture and word congruence. Our data provide further evidence of how the observation of an emblem influences verbal language perception, and of how this interplay is mainly instanced by different portions of the temporal cortex.


Words Symbolic gestures High density EEG N400 potential Medial temporal cortex Anterior temporal pole 



We thank Dr. Riccardo Dalla Volta for the comments on the manuscript. The work was supported by MIUR (Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca) Grant to M.G. P.A. and C.C. were supported by the ERC Project n. 250013.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maddalena Fabbri-Destro
    • 1
    Email author
  • Pietro Avanzini
    • 2
  • Elisa De Stefani
    • 2
  • Alessandro Innocenti
    • 2
  • Cristina Campi
    • 2
  • Maurizio Gentilucci
    • 2
  1. 1.Brain Center for Social and Motor CognitionIstituto Italiano di TecnologiaParmaItaly
  2. 2.Dipartimento di NeuroscienzeUniversità di ParmaParmaItaly

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