The WAT Proposal and the Role of Language

Part of the SpringerBriefs in Psychology book series (BRIEFSPSYCHOL)


The chapter illustrates the words as social tools (WAT) theory on abstract concepts and words. The theory has five main tenets. (1) embodiment and grounding. Both concrete and abstract concepts and words are embodied and grounded in perception, action, and emotional systems; (2) importance of language. For the representation of abstract concepts, the linguistic mediation is more crucial than for the representation of concrete ones, given that the scaffolding function of the physical environment is less powerful for abstract than for concrete concepts; (3) acquisition modality. The acquisition modality of abstract concepts and words relies more on language than the acquisition of concrete concepts and words; (4) brain representation. While both activate the sensorimotor network, the linguistic network is activated more by abstract than by concrete concepts and words. (5) linguistic diversity. Abstract concepts and words are more affected by differences between languages than concrete ones; that is, their meaning changes more depending on the cultural and linguistic milieu in which they are learned. Overall, abstract concepts do not differ from concrete ones in embodiment, but differ from them in acquisition modality, in brain representation, in variability across languages, and they are also likely to differ in the assessment of quantity. Once outlined the main principles of the theory, in the rest of the chapter we discuss the reasons of the dominance of language and the role played by labels and linguistic explanations for abstract concepts and words, as well as the possible mechanisms underlying the activation of its motor counterpart, the mouth effector.


Abstract concepts Abstract words Embodied cognition Labels Explanations Inner language 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PsychologyUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly
  2. 2.Institute of Cognitive Sciences and TechnologiesItalian National Research CouncilRomeItaly
  3. 3.RWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany

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