Archive for the 'Cognition and behaviour' Category

Electrodermal tools

Theories in extended cognition suggest that mind is a process generated by the integration among brain, body and environment (including technology). Actually, tools are integrated into the body structural and functional schemes when handled, and the central nervous system delegates some capacities to these extra-body peripheral elements. Haptics concerns the perceptual and somatic response during hand-tool interaction, bridging sensing and cognition. Electrodermal activity is as a quick and simple proxy for some kinds of cognitive reactions (like attention or general arousal), and can be used to test emotional changes during stone tool handling, according to different tool typologies. Now we have published a full research paper on electrodermal activity during Lower Paleolithic stone tool manipulation. There are subtle but significant differences between males and females, and between choppers and handaxes. Specific physical features of the tools do influence the electrodermal reaction. If the body-tool system is regulated according to a “prosthetic capacity” of our cognitive mechanisms, electrodermal feedback can supply a first glimpse to investigate changes and discontinuities into the archaeological record, following basic principles in psychology and electrophysiology. The main aim is clear:  to move cognitive archaeology into quantitative hypotheses testing.

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Domesticated bodies

Humans are hypothesized to have undergone a process of self-domestication, associated with reduction of aggressive behavior and enhanced sociability. We have also undergone anatomical changes in our parietal cortex, which is crucial for body cognition and visuospatial integration. In a recent Opinion Paper published in Frontiers in Psychology, Ben Gleeson and I wonder whether these two factors, self-domestication and body cognition, may have reciprocal influences, or even share some evolutionary mechanisms. A first likely bridge is our heightened use of technology, which is strictly associated with our body-tool prosthetic capacity and with our special life-cycle (adolescence and creativity, longevity, post-reproductive stages, etc.). The concept of “tool” is considered, in this article, through functional and cognitive parameters. A second connection is the social system, because body cognition and the association cortex affect group size and social skills based on egocentric perspectives. Neural plasticity could represent an important organic link between these anatomical and behavioral aspects. The article is part of a volume dedicated to Self-Domestication and Human Evolution.

Haptic cognition

We have now published a second perspective paper on cognitive archaeology and visuospatial integration, this time particularly focused on haptic experience and prehistoric tool handling. The article reviews issues in paleoneurology, parietal evolution and body cognition, and then presents three examples of methodological approaches that can be useful to investigate hand-tool relationships: shape analysis, grasping patterns, and electrodermography. The whole perspective is intimately associated with theories in extended cognition and embodiment. It is important to take in mind that this does not precisely deal with tool-making or tool functional use, but with tool sensing. These three aspects (making, using, and sensing) are cognitively and evolutionarily related, but they are also influenced by distinct biological factors. Tool sensing is something associated with haptic feedback, body cognition and perception, and tool integration in the body scheme. Prosthetic capacity and cognitive extension deal more with sensing (for example, body-tool integration) than with mechanical issues (like, for example, manual precision). Electrodermography can reveal patterns of attention and emotional engagement during the haptic experience. All this is probably part of a powerful visuospatial sketchpad, a crucial component when taking into account the traditional models on working memory. This article is published in a volume of the series Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences, entitled “Processes of Visuo-spatial Attention and Working Memory”, edited by Timothy Hodgson (University of Lincoln). This week we have also published a preliminary survey on hand-tool morphometrics.

Renki

Psychogeny and phylogeny, a unique and illuminating perspective on the natural history of the human beast …

Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt [1928-2018]

Visuospatial behaviours

After the perspective paper on visuospatial cognition and human evolution, and the review on visuospatial integration and the fossil record, we have now published a review article on visuospatial behaviors in archaeology. Here, we introduce and discuss parietal cortex evolution, embodiment, tool use and tool making, wayfinding, and the association between physical, chronological, and social spaces. A main target of cognitive archaeology is to test whether modern human cognition is due to a specific prosthetic capacity that enhances the functional relationships between body and technology, offloading brain functions and outsourcing information process to the enviroment. Something similar happens to … spiders! This chapter is part of a book dedicated to the Evolution of Primate Social Cognition (Springer).

Electrodermal archaeology

After all those surveys on parietal lobes and parietal evolution, some years ago we began investigating some functions particularly associated with the parietal cortex, and generically labeled as visuospatial integration. Some visuospatial behaviors can be inferred in fossils, according to anatomical and archaeological evidence. In my lab, we are interested in aspects bridging cognition, body, and tools. In a recent paper published in Progress in Brain Research we have applied electrodermal analysis to investigate the cognitive response during a haptic experience with stone tools. Electrodermal signals have been employed here to evaluate changes in emotion and attention during stone tool manipulation, as to evidence whether different tools exert different cognitive responses when handled. New methods for cognitive archaeology!

 

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The paper is part of a volume entitled “Cerebral Lateralization and Cognition: Evolutionary and Developmental Investigations of Behavioral Biases“, edited by Gillian Forrester, William Hopkins, Kristelle Hudry and Annukka Lindell.

What makes us humans

Hands (Leonardo)The Journal of Anthropological Sciences is now publishing the papers from the meeting “What Made Us Humans“, that took place in Erice on October 2014. The volume is edited by Telmo Pievani, Stefano Parmigiani and Ian Tattersall, and it includes contributions by Thomas Plummer, Dean Falk, Philip Lieberman, Jeffrey Schwartz, William Harcourt Smith, and many others. There is a section on brain and cognition, in which we publish a review on visuospatial functions and fossils. In this paper we discuss topics in extended cognition and embodiment, presenting the available sources of information from fossil anatomy: brain morphology, manipulative behaviors, and hand evolution. Modern humans displayed changes in all these traits, suggesting that differences in visuospatial integration processes may have been associated with changes of the embodying capacity, leading to derived and probably specialized relationships between brain, body, and environment. This article is a further reference on visuospatial integration and cognitive archaeology. All papers from this JASs volume are, as usually, free to download.


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