Affective abilities are crucial for social interactions, as understanding, predicting and responding to emotional signals is necessary for the optimal functioning of daily life. Of note, emotion recognition relies on the detection of salient information, a task chiefly accomplished through vision. As a matter of fact, affective signals are largely conveyed through nonverbal communication, and can be perceived exclusively through sight, as the redness on the cheeks when feeling embarrassed. Indeed, previous behavioral evidence and functional brain data point to the crucial role of sight in emotional processing. Therefore, a question naturally arises: how emotions are experienced/perceived in absence of vision? Specifically, how do congenitally blind individuals describe emotions through language? Is their representation of affective states in the body different from a sighted subject? Do they retain the same mechanisms of emotional coding in the brain? To answer these questions, the proposal (1) will explore the emotion ontology of sighted and congenitally blind individuals, revealing to what extent emotion semantics develops independently from the sense of vision; (2) will study how much the representation of emotional bodily sensations depends on sight; (3) will investigate whether the stream of affect is differently encoded in the brain of sighted and blind individuals. The action will adopt an interdisciplinary approach, exploiting methods ranging from computational linguistics to psychological assessment, as well as from behavioral to neuroimaging investigations. The innovative framework here proposed will advance our knowledge of sensory deprivation and emotion by mapping affective states in language, body and brain. Importantly, the current action will highlight factors influencing the psychological wellbeing of visually impaired subjects and provide new insights to foster their inclusion in a society which strongly depends on sight.
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