This thesis focuses on the Multisensory Storytelling Project, developed by the research group made by the Department of Cognitive Communication and Action Sciences of the University of Roma Tre, led by Professor Francesco Ferretti.
The structure is characterized by three chapters. In the first, the foundations for the study of Cognitive Sciences are recalled, with a particular regard to the idea that stories are considered the human communication specialty, as well as taking into account that they were born to persuade our fellowmen.
Narrative turns out to be the first useful brick to construct our communication system. Homo Ergaster, who was prior to Homo Sapiens, was already able to represent reality through stories.
Stories require three properties: time, plot and character, each of which is associated with a specific processing system, respectively Mental Time Travel, the Executive Functions and Mindreading.
The second chapter deepens spatial navigation, that is closely correlated to the time factor, together with the construction of mental scenarios.
Starting from space and time relationship analysis, this thesis presents the Default Mode Network model, presented by Randy L. Buckner and Daniel C. Carroll in an article named «Self-projection and the brain» (2007). It identifies, in self-projection, an element capable of uniting and linking the projective systems.
Importantly, a crucial role is played by the retrosplenial complex, that eventually activates while observing and imagining scenarios; in cases of damage, some difficulties could develop in terms of navigation.
Considering that sight favors the development of a reality spatial representation, we wonder how blind people transform the tactile experience into the visual one. Ferretti (2008) proposes the idea that blind people could simulate some vision features, by replacing the missing sensory stimulus through the use of some superior processing devices, that deal with visual stimulus analysis.
If we assume that mental scenarios construction is involved in the narrative elaboration, a blind person would be deprived of a fundamental part for reconstructing stories. This would complicate the task of storytelling analysis.
Starting from this idea, in the third chapter, the existing literature about this matter is briefly explained, being it focused on the pragmatic skills possessed in subjects with visual impairment. In some cases they are compared with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Additionally, it is shown how important is the parental figure, which must be able to avoid in children serious long-term consequences, even socially.
Next, we describe the Multisensory Storytelling Project. Here, the Research Group's objective is to analyse, in congenital blind subjects aged between 8 and 12 years, whether visual deprivation may be detrimental to narrative and retelling comprehension skills, then re-export, and, subsequently, understand whether a multisensory approach during storytelling may be able to enhance their narrative understanding.
We will use the Tangible User Interface, a tool which is based on the multisensory method. It could increase memory capacity and foster learning, bringing benefits in the field of pedagogy, as well as in cases of disability and in children with typical development.
This Tangible User Interface prototype was presented by Federica Somma, Lavinia Lattanzio, Raffaele Di Fuccio and Francesco Ferretti (2020) in order to be a supplement for learning and increasing storytelling comprehension.
In our Multisensory Storytelling Project, 40 children between the ages of 8 and 12 years will be analysed. Twenty of them will be affected by congenital blindness, guests at the Centro Regionale Sant'Alessio - "Margherita di Savoia" for the Blind, while the other twenty will be at typical development, who will act as a control group. This control group will recruited from the Comprehensive Institutes of the territory. In addition, children must have adequate verbal skills and cognitive skills (such as attention, short-term memory) and the absence of organic or functional disorders in the brain and psychiatric comorbidities.
Each child will have in front of him some objects, related to the story that he will hear, on each of which will be affixed an RFID/NFC tag to which will be associated digital information, recorded within the software, which will process the results, developing an output response.
Cognitive skills will be evaluated through IQ, Theory of Mind, Mental Time Travel and Mental Space Travel and typhoid indicators, based on the behaviours possessed during interaction with objects, through their manipulation and possible displacements and placements.
Our expectations could show that, due to the unintended deprivation of the visual experience, a perceptually different imagination could be developed thanks to a greater sensorial use, such as to try to make up for the lack of sight. Through the verification made by the comprehension test and the task of retelling, the idea is to observe the alterations of the cognitive processes in blind's oral storytelling.
Moreover, the aim will be to investigate, using the Tangible User Interface, whether it can be a cognitive "prosthesis" useful to make a better understanding of storytelling in blind people, through the implication of perceptive memories other than visual, such as tactile, olfactory and auditory and, therefore, being useful to improve in them the construction of stories.
The research is still under development, waiting for the research protocol to be approved by the ethics committee of the Centro Regionale Sant'Alessio.