CNS activation and regional connectivity during pantomime observation: no engagement of the mirror neuron system for deaf signers.
ABSTRACT Deaf signers have extensive experience using their hands to communicate. Using fMRI, we examined the neural systems engaged during the perception of manual communication in 14 deaf signers and 14 hearing non-signers. Participants passively viewed blocked video clips of pantomimes (e.g., peeling an imaginary banana) and action verbs in American Sign Language (ASL) that were rated as meaningless by non-signers (e.g., TO-DANCE). In contrast to visual fixation, pantomimes strongly activated fronto-parietal regions (the mirror neuron system, MNS) in hearing non-signers, but only bilateral middle temporal regions in deaf signers. When contrasted with ASL verbs, pantomimes selectively engaged inferior and superior parietal regions in hearing non-signers, but right superior temporal cortex in deaf signers. The perception of ASL verbs recruited similar regions as pantomimes for deaf signers, with some evidence of greater involvement of left inferior frontal gyrus for ASL verbs. Functional connectivity analyses with left hemisphere seed voxels (ventral premotor, inferior parietal lobule, fusiform gyrus) revealed robust connectivity with the MNS for the hearing non-signers. Deaf signers exhibited functional connectivity with the right hemisphere that was not observed for the hearing group for the fusiform gyrus seed voxel. We suggest that life-long experience with manual communication, and/or auditory deprivation, may alter regional connectivity and brain activation when viewing pantomimes. We conclude that the lack of activation within the MNS for deaf signers does not support an account of human communication that depends upon automatic sensorimotor resonance between perception and action.
Article: Language beyond action.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: The discovery of mirror neurons in macaques and of a similar system in humans has provided a new and fertile neurobiological ground for rooting a variety of cognitive faculties. Automatic sensorimotor resonance has been invoked as the key elementary process accounting for disparate (dys)functions, like imitation, ideomotor apraxia, autism, and schizophrenia. In this paper, we provide a critical appraisal of three of these claims that deal with the relationship between language and the motor system. Does language comprehension require the motor system? Was there an evolutionary switch from manual gestures to speech as the primary mode of language? Is human communication explained by automatic sensorimotor resonances? A positive answer to these questions would open the tantalizing possibility of bringing language and human communication within the fold of the motor system. We argue that the available empirical evidence does not appear to support these claims, and their theoretical scope fails to account for some crucial features of the phenomena they are supposed to explain. Without denying the enormous importance of the discovery of mirror neurons, we highlight the limits of their explanatory power for understanding language and communication.Journal of Physiology-Paris 102(1-3):71-9. · 1.31 Impact Factor
Article: Dissociation between linguistic and nonlinguistic gestural systems: a case for compositionality.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: This paper addresses the issue of the separability of disorders of sign language from disorders of gesture and pantomime. The study of a left-lesioned deaf signer presents one of the most striking examples to date of the cleavage between linguistic signs and manual pantomime. The left-hemisphere lesion produced a marked sign language aphasia disrupting both the production and the comprehension of sign language. However, in sharp contrast to the breakdown of sign language, the ability to communicate in nonlinguistic gesture was remarkably spared. This case has important implications for our understanding of the neural mediation of language and gesture. We argue that the differences observed in the fractionation of linguistic versus nonlinguistic gesture reflect differing degrees of compositionality of systems underlying language and gesture. The compositionality hypothesis receives support for the existence of phonemic paraphasias in sign language production, illustrating structural dissolution which is absent in the production of pantomimic gesture. Understanding the neural encoding of compositional motoric systems may lead to a principled anatomical account of the neural separability of language and gesture. This case provides a powerful indication of the left hemisphere's specialization for language-specific functions.Brain and Language 11/1992; 43(3):414-47. · 3.12 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Visual field asymmetries were examined in American Sign Language-English bilinguals for speeded numerical size judgments of pairs of digits, number words, and number signs. Physical size of the number pairs was either congruent or incongruent with their numerical size. The results revealed a greater left visual field (LVF) interference for numbers represented as digits and a greater right visual field (RVF) interference for numbers represented as words or signs. Subjects' performance on number words and signs was also influenced by their skill in English and ASL: interference was greater in the RVF in the subjects' better language but was greater in the LVF for the less skilled language. These findings suggest that lateralization of numerical size judgments is moderated by the mode of number presentation and by prior language experience.Brain and Language 02/1989; 36(1):117-26. · 3.12 Impact Factor