"Evidence of activation of sensorimotor circuits for action and perception during cognitive tasks, such as language understanding, has been used to challenge the “Cartesian” conception that mind and body are different entities to be studied as separate domains. However, the study of brain-damaged patients has shown that the integrity of sensorimotor processes is not necessary for language. Why would, then, there be activation of the sensorimotor system during language if that activation is not causally involved in the task? To explore this issue, we will investigate how motor processes relate to the language network in the brain, and what information is conveyed by motor processes in language. We will use trancranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to assess whether motor activity is temporally subsequent and causally determined by activity of language-processing areas, or is independent of it. We will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate activation patterns in the sensorimotor circuits of individuals with congenital deprivation of sensorimotor experience (i.e. amelics) during action-word comprehension, to define how action words are represented in the brain in the absence of sensorimotor experience. The conceptual design of this project takes advantage of the study of a special population, that has not been studied before in this field, and of modern techniques of analysis, such as fMRI and TMS. It has the potential to create a new line of research by establishing a bridge between different cognitive domains, and to impact conceptions in education and re-education by clarifying what sensorimotor experience adds to our conceptual ability and what is missed when it is lacking. Harvard University and CIMeC, University of Trento, will provide the ideal intellectual and technical environments to develop this project and improve significantly the scientific experience of the fellow for a successful career."
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