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Handling our everyday life, we often react manually to verbal requests or instruction, but the functional interrelations of motor control and language are not fully understood yet, especially their neurophysiological basis. Here, we investigated whether specific motor representations for grip types interact neurophysiologically with conceptual information, that is, when reading nouns. Participants performed lexical decisions and, for words, executed a grasp-and-lift task on objects of different sizes involving precision or power grips while the electroencephalogram was recorded. Nouns could denote objects that require either a precision or a power grip and could, thus, be (in)congruent with the performed grasp. In a control block, participants pointed at the objects instead of grasping them. The main result revealed an event-related potential (ERP) interaction of grip type and conceptual information which was not present for pointing. Incongruent compared to congruent conditions elicited an increased positivity (100–200 ms after noun onset). Grip type effects were obtained in response-locked analyses of the grasping ERPs (100–300 ms at left anterior electrodes). These findings attest that grip type and conceptual information are functionally related when planning a grasping action but such an interaction could not be detected for pointing. Generally, the results suggest that control of behaviour can be modulated by task demands; conceptual noun information (i.e., associated action knowledge) may gain processing priority if the task requires a complex motor response.

Data basis is available under: http://dx.doi.org/10.4119/unibi/2906584