Research

These are some of the themes and questions we are currently investigating:

Sensorimotor control for reaching and grasping

We execute hundreds of reaching and grasping movements every day. Some of them are guided by vision, like when picking up an apple from the fruit basket; others are guided by like when grasping your keys from your coat’s pocket. The majority of these movements goal directed (they serve a purpose) and conducted effortlessly. But not all grasping movements are created equally. Research in the lab is exploring how sensory modality and action intent (e.g. to eat, to place, to inspect, etc.) affect movement kinematics. We are also investigating how these factors influence hand preference for grasping. Ninety percent of the human population prefers to use the right hand when picking up an object, but, why? After all, we are constantly grasping and manipulating objects. One possible explanation is that the left hemisphere (which controls the right hand) processes sensorimotor information more efficiently than the right hemisphere. We have a number of projects in the lab investigating these issues. Some questions we are looking answers for are:

  • Are there hemispheric differences in the processing of visual and haptic information relevant to reaching and grasping? If so, what object properties are more relevant to each hemisphere and to each sensory modality?
  • What is the role of eye movements during grasping with vision and with haptics? Do eye movements influence hand preference and grasping kinematics?
  • How (and why) action intent changes reaching and grasping kinematics?

Motor and Cognitive Interactions

We produce hundreds if not thousands of reaching and grasping movements every day. Most of these movements occur while we are engaged (i.e. concur) with cognitive tasks that require, language, attention, memory, processing of spatial information etc. We are interested in understanding how these cognitive processes influence our hand actions.

For example:

  • How and under what circumstances perception influences action and vice versa?
  • Are there memory traces of our hand actions? If so, what type of memory?
  • Do visuospatial demands influence hand use and precision for grasping?
  • Is haptic processing related to spatial abilities?

We are addressing some of these questions by studying patients with neurological conditions such as hemispatial neglect, congenital blindness, and people with language disorders. At the end of the day we hope to refine our understanding of the general principles underlying cerebral asymmetry, organization and function. This knowledge is essential if we are to develop effective and appropriate rehabilitative strategies for patients with brain damage

Development of sensorimotor and cognitive functions

Another way to understand the interactions between sensorimotor processes and cognitive abilities is to study them during development. In the lab we are conducting research on motor, language and executive functions in 1-14 year-old children.

These are some of the questions we are addressing:

  • Is there a relationship between hemispheric specialization for language and hemispheric specialization for grasping?
  • Can hand preference for grasping predict the maturity of the language production and perception systems?
  • Can we utilize motor-based programs to enhance language and executive function abilities?