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Dual-task performance of speech and motor skill: verb generation facilitates grasping behaviour


Pronouncing nouns or verbs while grasping distinctly alters movement. Changes in hand speed and final position occur according to the meaning of the words spoken. These results are typically found when executing a single movement paired with a single word. For example, pronouncing the word ‘fast’ increased the speed of the hand when reaching to grasp. Our objective was to compare how verb and noun fluency tasks interact with grasping behaviour in a grasp-to-construct task. Because previous imaging research shows that verb and noun production activates distinct neural areas, we reasoned that grasping outcomes would differ according to the category of word produced by participants. Specifically, we hypothesized that verb pronunciation would distinctly affect grasping behaviour compared to producing nouns. We recruited 38 young adults who performed a grasp-to-construct task and two different verbal fluency tasks. Participants completed each task (grasp, verb fluency, and noun fluency) separately as control conditions, and the grasping and each speaking task simultaneously for dual-task conditions. We found that during the dual-task condition, when generating nouns and grasping, participants made significantly more grasping errors (inaccurate grasps) compared to the control and verb dual-task conditions. Moreover, our results revealed a relationship between the number of verbs generated and grasping performance. Participants who generated more verbs were faster and more accurate during the motor component of the dual-task condition. This relationship was not observed when nouns were produced, indicating a unique relationship between verb production and functional grasping. The result is a facilitation effect, diminishing the negative outcome on motor control associated with increased cognitive load (as observed during noun pronunciation).

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Correspondence to Nicole van Rooteselaar.

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van Rooteselaar, N., Beke, C. & Gonzalez, C.L.R. Dual-task performance of speech and motor skill: verb generation facilitates grasping behaviour. Exp Brain Res 238, 453–463 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-020-05725-x

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  • Grasp-to-construct
  • Verb generation
  • Noun generation
  • Facilitation
  • Dual task
  • Speech production