We use psychophysics and neuroimaging (fMRI, M-EEG) in adults and children of different cultures and cognitive skills to study how the human brain learns and organizes abstract representations of concepts, and in the relation between basic sensorimotor skills and high level cognition. Our research spans over two main areas: Language and Maths. See a brief description of our work as well as some selected publications below:

(1) Language - constructing and navigating semantic spaces

We study how concepts are acquired and organized in memory. We use imaging and behavioral methods to test the hypothesis that concrete word meaning is an emergent property of the simultaneous re-activation of both single and multiple conjoint features of the objects referred to by the words.

The single sensory features that define the meaning of concrete words (e.g. individual dimensions of the semantic space - the prototypical size, shape, sound of objects) are represented independently in sensory-specific cortical regions. During word reading these representations emerge very early in time (by 200 ms) and in parallel.

A second type of representation that characterize semantic is one that integrates different features in a single conjunctive multidimensional space. Those representations emerge in the temporal, frontal, and parietal lobe, and are encoded through a variety of neuronal codes that also support spatial navigation: a grid-like, distance-dependent, and direction-specific codes.

(2) Maths - number sense and relational thinking

Humans share with other animals the ability to extract and mentally represent discrete (number) and continuous (area, density) quantities from their physical environment. We study those skills, their neuronal correlates, their development, and their role in grounding higher level cognitive skills, such as formal symbolic maths. We also study dyscalculia with the aim of understanding whether and how impaired perceptual quantity-related skills may hinder the ability to properly acquire knowledge and skills in symbolic number processing.


 Poster that the Per2Con group presented at the CIMeC Lab Fair in 2023