Visual sensory cortices causally contribute to auditory word recognition following sensorimotor-enriched vocabulary training

Brian Mathias* (Corresponding Author), Leona Sureth, Gesa Hartwigsen, Manuela Macedonia, Katja M Mayer, Katharina von Kriegstein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
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Despite a rise in the use of "learning by doing" pedagogical methods in praxis, little is known as to how the brain benefits from these methods. Learning by doing strategies that utilize complementary information ("enrichment") such as gestures have been shown to optimize learning outcomes in several domains including foreign language (L2) training. Here we tested the hypothesis that behavioral benefits of gesture-based enrichment are critically supported by integrity of the biological motion visual cortices (bmSTS). Prior functional neuroimaging work has implicated the visual motion cortices in L2 translation following sensorimotor-enriched training; the current study is the first to investigate the causal relevance of these structures in learning by doing contexts. Using neuronavigated transcranial magnetic stimulation and a gesture-enriched L2 vocabulary learning paradigm, we found that the bmSTS causally contributed to behavioral benefits of gesture-enriched learning. Visual motion cortex integrity benefitted both short- and long-term learning outcomes, as well as the learning of concrete and abstract words. These results adjudicate between opposing predictions of two neuroscientific learning theories: While reactivation-based theories predict no functional role of specialized sensory cortices in vocabulary learning outcomes, the current study supports the predictive coding theory view that these cortices precipitate sensorimotor-based learning benefits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-528
Number of pages16
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number1
Early online date22 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

This work was funded by German Research Foundation (grant KR 3735/3-1), a Max Planck Research Group to K.v.K., and an Erasmus Mundus Postdoctoral Fellowship to B.M.. B.M. is also supported by the European Research Council Consolidator grant SENSOCOM 647051 to K.v.K..


  • biological motion
  • foreign language learning
  • gesture
  • sensorimotor learning
  • TMS


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