#IDIBELLseminars: Investigating abstract and concrete words in the brain

Costanza Papagno

CIMeC Center for Mind/Brain Sciences, University of Trento



Sala de Graus (Aulari) – UB


Several studies have demonstrated the so-called “concreteness effect”—that is, the superior processing of concrete versus abstract words. This effect has been explained in quantitative terms: concrete concepts have both a verbal and a nonverbal representation, abstract concepts only verbal. However, patients have been described with a reversal of concreteness effect. The most frequent causes are herpes simplex encephalitis and semantic dementia, which typically affect bilaterally anterior temporal regions, often in an asymmetrical way. Abstract concepts are impaired with damage to the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). TMS and direct electrical simulation (DES) studies support the role of the IGF in processing abstract words. Finally, different semantic categories appear to be selectively impaired also for the abstract domain (e.g., emotion, social concepts), suggesting that the concrete/abstract distinction is insufficient.

Hosted by Ruth de Diego-Balaguer – Cognition and Brain Plasticity group


Degree in Medicine, Specialization in Neurology, PhD in Neuropsychology, 1989-1991Research Assistant MRC Cambridge,  1991-1993: Consultant neurorehabilitation Unit, ospedale di Seregno, 1994-1998: Consultant Neurology Department of Milano University, 1998-2001: Associate Professor of Neuropsychology in Palermo, 2001-2022 Full Professor of Psychobiology at the University of Milano-Bicocca, 2016-2021 Visting Professor University of Trento, 2022- now Professor of Neurology, University of Trento. Recent publications:

Gilardone G., Longo C., Papagno C. (2023) Neuropsychology Review, 10.1007/s11065-023-09595-2

Papagno C., Pascuzzo R., Ferrante C., Casarotti A., Riva M., Antelmi L., Gennari A., Mattavelli G., Bizzi A. (2023) Human Brain Mapping. Doi: 10.1002/hbm.26325,

Mancano M., Papagno C. (2023) Brain Sciences, 13, 765

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