Words that move us. The effects of sentences on body sway

John F. Stins*, Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos, Femke Hulzinga, Eric Wenker, Rouwen Cañal-Bruland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


According to the embodied cognition perspective, cognitive systems and perceptuo-motor systems are deeply intertwined and exert a causal effect on each other. A prediction following from this idea is that cognitive activity can result in subtle changes in observable movement. In one experiment, we tested whether reading various sentences resulted in changes in postural sway. Sentences symbolized various human activities involving high, low, or no physical effort. Dutch participants stood upright on a force plate, measuring the body center of pressure, while reading a succession of sentences. High physical effort sentences resulted in more postural sway (greater SD) than low physical effort sentences. This effect only showed up in medio-lateral sway but not anterio-posterior sway. This suggests that sentence comprehension was accompanied by subtle motoric activity, likely mirroring the various activities symbolized in the sentences. We conclude that semantic processing reaches the motor periphery, leading to increased postural activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)156-165
Number of pages10
JournalAdvances in Cognitive Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Embodied cognition
  • Language processing
  • Motor control
  • Postural sway


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