Behavioral and neuroimaging data suggest that the actions associated with objects and words are automatically activated during object and word recognition. For example, recognition of a hammer activates the grip that is used to grasp a hammer and the actions that are performed when using a hammer. The question addressed in this review is whether these motor simulations support short-term and long-term memory for objects and verbs that are associated with actions. A meta-analysis shows that there is no evidence supporting a role for motor simulations in short-term recognition and n-back tasks. Serial recall tasks, on the other hand, have provided evidence that motor simulations support short-term memory. The majority of these studies, however, used procedures that emphasized actions. These studies do therefore not provide strong evidence for the view that motor actions are automatically activated and encoded in memory. More studies are needed to establish a role for motor actions in short-term memory when actions are not primed by the context of the experiment. Only a few studies have studied the role of motor simulations in long-term memory. The available evidence suggests that motor simulations do not affect encoding in long-term memory. Overall the results cast some doubt on the idea that action has a central role in cognitive processing.

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Department of Psychology

Zeelenberg, R., & Pecher, D. (2016). The Role of Motor Action in Memory for Objects and Words. doi:10.1016/bs.plm.2015.09.005