DEPARTMENT OF GENERAL PSYCHOLOGY UNIVERSITY OF PADUA - ITALY
 

Projects

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REACH-TO-GRASP IN NATURALISTIC SETTINGS: A COMPARATIVE APPROACH

Reach-to-grasp is one of the most fundamental daily activities, in human and non-human primates. But despite interest, relevance, and theoretical development, there is little or no published research based on a comparative approach in naturalistic settings. At least part of this remarkable gap is certainly methodological: so far, there has been no way to keep track and to examine how the transport and manipulation components are coordinated during prehension movements in free ranging monkeys, with valid resolution and scale. Providing a detailed kinematic analysis of monkeys’ grasping behaviors, an animal model that is often used to study the neuronal mechanisms underlying the control of grip in humans, will offer many ecological and evolutionary implications. In view of the similarities in the kinematic patterns of reaching and grasping actions in humans and in macaque monkeys living in their natural environment, the latter could help us attain greater knowledge about these mechanisms and further our understanding of human motor control. On the basis of neurophysiological and neuroanatomical data, the macaque monkey is, moreover, the animal model used to evaluate the potential of selected therapies for neuromotor disorders such as spinal cord injuries or to develop brain machine interfaces for arm control. Comprehending the similarities in human and macaque prehension movement is clearly indispensable if the animal model is to be exploited for human benefit. In this project we capitalize on recent technological advances developed within NEMO to track in real time the movements of groups of primates, with very high temporal and spatial resolution. Video footage is analyzed frame-by-frame by using digitalization techniques and kinematic signatures characterizing prehensile actions are considered.  
PROJECT CATEGORY: MIUR – Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca
PROJECT TIMEFRAME: Ongoing
CONTACT PERSONS:  Umberto Castiello and Luisa Sartori
EXTERNAL COLLABORATORS:
Dott. Ing. Bulgheroni, R&D Director at Ab.Acus, Milano. http://www.ab-acus.com/
Prof. Camperio-Ciani, Department of General Psychology, University of Padova, Padova. http://www.psy.unipd.it/~eto/

REACH-TO-GRASP MOVEMENT IN INDIVIDUAL AND SOCIAL CONTEXT: A MULTIMODAL STUDY

In this project we investigate structural and functional brain architecture during reach-to-grasp movements with or without social intention.  In our previous work we observed that during reaching and grasping kinematic profiles and brain activations were different depending on whether the movement was performed with social intention or without it. Capitalizing on this finding, in this study we are applying different neuroimaging techniques together with advanced kinematic analysis of reach-to-grasp movements using infra-red cameras and BTS SMART-DX equipment. Functional MRI is used to assess functional brain organisation during reach-to-grasp movements (with or without social intention), and diffusion imaging tractography to investigate white matter pathways underlying reaching- and grasping-related activations. Key aspect of this study is investigating brain’s functional and structural connectivity together with kinematic profiles of prehension movements in relation to social intention.
PROJECT CATEGORY: MIUR – Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca
PROJECT TIMEFRAME: Ongoing
CONTACT PERSONS: Chiara Begliomini, Sanja Budisavljević, Umberto Castiello, Luisa Sartori and Elisa Straulino

COMPLEMENTARY ACTIONS

Perceiving body movements activates motor representations in the observer’s brain, and this mechanism appears to be imitative in nature. However, mirroring the observed movement might be disadvantageous for successfully performing social interactions. This is particularly true with regard to complementary actions (from Latin complementum; i.e., that fills up), a specific class of movements which differ, while interacting, with observed ones. What remains largely unknown is how do we solve the discrepancy between the automatic tendency to mirror and the need to perform different context-related actions, and what is the role played by attention and handedness in this endeavor. Previous studies focusing on action imitation did not monitored the effectiveness of attentional modulation as a strategy for successful social interactions, nor assessed the observer’s and observed handedness. A novel ‘social paradigm’ in conjunction with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), Diffusion Tensory Imaging (DTI) and 3-D Motion Analysis has been thus developed to ascertain the behavioral, physiological, and neural underpinnings of the social side of the motor system: the strictly resonant and the reciprocal functioning. Defining the modalities by which dynamic interactions are carried out may prove to have specific translational implications leading to the development of novel neuro-rehabilitation protocols for patients with localized lesions to cortical motor areas (e.g., ischemic stroke) and for pathologies such as autism. More distant horizons may include developing models of brain mechanisms underlying social interactions in view of endowing artificial agents such as robots with the ability to perform meaningful interactions.  
PROJECT CATEGORY: MIUR – Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca
TIMEFRAME: Ongoing

CONTACT PERSONS:  Umberto Castiello, Luisa Sartori, Sonia Betti, Chiara Begliomini, Sanja Budisavljević  
EXTERNAL COLLABORATORS:  
Dott. Ing. Bulgheroni, R&D Director at Ab.Acus, Milano. http://www.ab-acus.com/
Dr. Eng. Chinellato, School of Computing, University of Leeds, Leeds (UK). https://www.engineering.leeds.ac.uk/people/computing/staff/e.chinellato

NEUROCOGNITIVE MECHANISMS AT THE BASIS OF SOCIAL INTERACTIONS

This project aims at investigating the behavioral and psychological components as well as the neural mechanisms underlying some crucial aspects of (interactive) social behavior. The project considers a systemic perspective entailing the circumstances which characterize daily living experience (e.g., self-other recognition, cooperation, sensorimotor and purely motor intentions, empathy, theoretical social knowledge, communication, personality traits involved in sociality). In order to provide a multifaceted picture of social behavior in healthy and pathological humans as well as in animals, we will strive to achieve the following main four objectives: a) to explore the behavioral correlates of social behavior; b) to explore the organization of brain areas involved in social behaviors; c) to explore personality traits implicated in social behaviors; d) to integrate psychological and neuroscientific methods in order to provide a well-structured perspective on how and where social behavior is represented at a neural level. This project may have specific translational implications in different fields: a) early diagnosis of pathologies characterized by deficits of social cognition; b) neurorehabilitation of social and communicative deficits following stroke; c) brain-based training procedures for social skills in pathologies; d) robotics for applications aimed at increasing the competence of artificial agents to operate in natural, human-like environments by using social attitudes.
PROJECT CATEGORY: MIUR – Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca.
PROJECT TIMEFRAME: Ongoing
CONTACT PERSONS: Umberto Castiello and Luisa Sartori 

REHABILITATIVE WAYOUT IN RESPONSIVE HOME ENVIRONMENTS – REWIRE

The REWIRE project will develop and field test an innovative virtual reality based rehabilitation platform, which would allow patients, discharged from the hospital, to continue intensive rehabilitation at home under remote monitoring by the hospital itself. The main idea is to assemble off the shelf components in a robust and reliable way to get a platform system that can be deployed massively at the patients’ homes. REWIRE main objectives are: • Make the rehabilitation at home scenario possible and achievable, by using a cheap system, easy to use and install at home without invasive intervention on the existing environment. Such a system could be massively deployed at patient’s home. • Keep and maximize at all times patients’ motivation and involvement guiding the rehabilitation exercises through an adequate set of mini-games in which patient’s activity is registered through consumer cameras like Kinect (hands free paradigm). Real-time interaction, audio-visual feedback, a balanced rewarding system and continuous tuning of the exercises to the current patient’s status and functional level are all aimed to provide maximal patient’s motivation and therapy effectiveness. • Educate and support patients by creating a social community allowing exchange of experiences and information among them as well as decreasing patients isolation. The goal is to generate useful new knowledge, predictive models of rehabilitation progression and collective evaluation of rehabilitation therapies. • Offer to health providers useful knowledge related to the analysis on a large scale of patients evolution, which might help to anticipate trends and guide in global resources allocation.
PROJECT CATEGORY: EU 7th Framework Programme
PROJECT TIMEFRAME: Ongoing
CONTACT PERSON: Umberto Castiello

LINK: http://www.rewire-project.eu/home 

THE COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE OF ATTENTION IN PERCEPTION AND COGNITION

The scope of the research program spans the neurocognitive development of attention from infancy through adulthood, the attentional modulation of perception and cognition in skilled adult performance, and the consequences of its breakdown following brain damage. More specifically, the program aims at:
i) tracking maturational changes of the attention networks from infancy through adulthood, both in terms of hemodynamic and electrophysiological correlates;
ii) investigating how attentional load / multitasking modulates the activity of the attention networks underlying visuospatial awareness in neurologically intact adults and right hemisphere stroke patients;
iii) investigate the role of attention for activating the observation-execution matching process (i.e., motor resonance) that is triggered by the observation of actions;
iv) gain a deeper understanding of the modulating role of spatial attention in high-level cognitive processing that is fundamental to daily living activities, such as numeracy, time perception, and language.
PROJECT CATEGORY: University of Padova – Strategic Grant (Neurat, STPD11B8HM)
PROJECT TIMEFRAME: Ongoing
CONTACT PERSONS: Umberto Castiello and Luisa Sartori 

THE ROLE OF HANDEDNESS IN GRASPING MOVEMENT: NEURAL AND BEHAVIORAL CORRELATES

A large body of experimental evidence suggests the existence of a well defined neural circuit in the brain specifically dedicated to grasp planning and execution, both in humans and non-human primates. In recent time, experiments have extended this knowledge showing that the contribution of grasping areas can be influenced by many factors such as the kind of prehension (i.e. isometric vs. visually guided), grasp type, task instructions, object position and many others. However, the vast majority of studies conducted so far focus on movements performed with the right hand, in right-handed participants, neglecting a basic feature of motor behavior, that is handedness. Only in recent times, the role of handedness in grasping planning and execution has been taken into consideration, showing the advantage of the right hand in right handers in performing grasping movements, but also revealing that left handedness might not follow a specular rule. In fact, some recent behavioral and neuroimaging findings seem to indicate that the right hand could be specifically ‘predisposed’ to grasping actions with no regard to handedness, especially when precision is needed. It appears, therefore, that the role played by handedness in the control of grasping in humans has yet to be fully contextualized and understood. To this aim, coregistration approaches among different techniques are exploited, combining eeg, fmri, dti and kinematic recordings of movements.
PROJECT CATEGORY: MIUR – Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca
PROJECT TIMEFRAME: Ongoing
CONTACT PERSONS: Chiara Begliomini and Umberto Castiello

THE NEURAL CORRELATES OF APPROACH AND AVOIDANCE MOTOR BEHAVIORS

Decades of research on affective motivation in the human brain have shown that behavior approach involves mainly the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere is more involved in avoidance behaviors (Casasanto , 2009). The Sword and Shield hypothesis (SSH – Brookshire et al., 2012) argues that this specialization is mainly determined by the motor dominance exhibited by the individual. Recent data (Brookshire et al., 2012) show that the hemispheric involvement (measured by EEG pattern) during approaching/avoidance behaviors is reversed in relation to motor dominance: while for right-handers the left hemisphere appears to be recruited during approach and the right during avoidance behavior, in left-handers this picture tend to be inverted. In light of these results, we combine behavioral data together with functional (fmri) and structural (voxel-based morphometry) data in order to further explore the interaction between handedness and motivation in the domain of motor control.
PROJECT CATEGORY: MIUR – Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca
PROJECT TIMEFRAME: Ongoing
CONTACT PERSONS: Chiara Begliomini and Maria Grazia Di Bono

COME IL CERVELLO SI RIORGANIZZA A SEGUITO DELL'AMPUTAZIONE DELL'ARTO SUPERIORE: IMPLICAZIONI PER LA PRATICA RIABILITATIVA

L’amputazione di un arto superiore porta un individuo a trovare nuove strategie per interagire con l’ambiente. A seguito dell’amputazione di un braccio l’individuo deve affrontare sfide importanti per adattare il proprio comportamento alle richieste imposte dalla routine giornaliera. Le semplici azioni che caratterizzano una giornata come allacciarsi le scarpe, preparare un panino, indossare un paio di pantaloni, richiedono di essere svolte con una sola mano. Ma non è solo una questione di apprendere nuove strategie comportamentali, anche il cervello deve modificarsi. Per esempio, molte aree cerebrali che prima controllavano l’arto amputato sono inutilizzate. Questo progetto ha lo scopo di capire in quali circostanze queste aree, diventate ridondanti, supportano l’acquisizione di nuove abilità necessarie agli amputati per adattarsi alla loro disabilità, come per esempio l’uso di protesi. Un altro aspetto del presente progetto è capire la relazione tra la plasticità del sistema motorio e il dolore percepito, che sembra derivare dall’arto che non c’è più. Per meglio comprendere questi processi saranno utilizzate tecniche non invasive di neuroimmagine, per meglio comprendere i meccanismi cerebrali che potrebbero essere stimolati per facilitare l’aspetto riabilitativo. La nostra speranza è che questa ricerca permetta al personale clinico di guidare gli amputati a sfruttare piuttosto che a subire gli effetti della riorganizzazione cerebrale che contraddistingue la loro condizione clinica.

PROJECT CATEGORY: Fondazione IRFA
PROJECT TIMEFRAME: Ongoing
CONTACT PERSONS: Chiara Begliomini and Maria Grazia Di Bono,