Perceptual simulation in developing language comprehension

Jan A. A. Engelen*, Samantha Bouwmeester, Anique B. H. de Bruin, Rolf A. Zwaan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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We tested an embodied account of language proposing that comprehenders create perceptual simulations of the events they hear and read about. In Experiment 1, children (ages 7-13 years) performed a picture verification task. Each picture was preceded by a prerecorded spoken sentence describing an entity whose shape or orientation matched or mismatched the depicted object. Responses were faster for matching pictures, suggesting that participants had formed perceptual-like situation models of the sentences. The advantage for matching pictures did not increase with age. Experiment 2 extended these findings to the domain of written language. Participants (ages 7-10 years) of high and low word reading ability verified pictures after reading sentences aloud. The results suggest that even when reading is effortful, children construct a perceptual simulation of the described events. We propose that perceptual simulation plays a more central role in developing language comprehension than was previously thought.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)659-675
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011


  • Language comprehension
  • Embodied cognition
  • Perceptual simulation
  • Language development
  • Word reading
  • Reading comprehension

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