Research Projects

The main goal of the lab is understanding how the human brain builds a representation of the body in space, important for action and perception. To this aim, we use different techniques from cognitive neuroscience, including psychophysics, fMRI, intracranial EEG recording, neuropsychology and neural network modeling to study the multisensory mechanisms underlying Body Representations (BR) and Peripersonal Space (PPS) in the human brain.

Multisensory paradigms to measure BR and PPS

The brain obtains information from the body and its environment through multiple signals including visual, motor, proprioceptive, tactile and auditory information. We have developed paradigms to measure BR and PPS, which rely on delivering controlled multisensory-motor stimulation to the brain and to quantify how the brain and the body react to this stimulation (e.g. reaction time or accuracy). We use technology platforms combining virtual reality, robotics, haptics and body tracking to provide stimulation through these different modalities (visual, motor, proprioceptive, tactile and auditory) and measure the associated responses. We are using these methods in all the projects described below. An important part of our work is to continuously improve and refine these methods to better capture specific aspects of BR and PPS and in different contexts. For example, we are currently developing novel paradigms to measure BR and PPS in real-life situations and also to acquire massive amounts of data in a short time using online paradigms.

Mechanisms underlying BR and PPS in healthy individuals

A major line of research in the lab is to study the mechanisms underlying BR and PPS in healthy individuals. BR and PPS support the interactions between the body and the environment and thus are highly dynamic systems that rapidly adapt to the current context. We are studying the plasticity of BR and PPS when the brain needs to adapt rapidly to its environment due to incongruent information obtained through different modalities (i.e. short-term plasticity). We are also investigating how BR and PPS naturally evolve through the course of life (i.e. aging). To understand the precise neuronal mechanisms underlying BR/PPS and their plasticity, we use neuroimaging data (fMRI and EEG) and computational modelling to complement our behavioral data.

Projects and involved researchers

  1. Rapid recalibration of BR and PPS following visuo-motor adaptation (Meytal, Giulio, Tommaso)
  2. Long term plasticity of BR and PPS during natural aging (Michela)
  3. Computational modelling of BR and PPS (Tommaso)
  4. Cortical representations of BR and PPS (Giulio and Michel)

Relationship between BR/PPS and cognitive/physiological functions

BR and PPS play a central role for human behavior and thus interact with other cortical and physiological systems. We are conducting very ambitious projects to understand how BR/PPS are altered during different states of consciousness (e.g. sleep vs wake) and how BR/PPS alterations affect cognitive functions like decision making and memory. Another pioneering line of research in the lab investigates the interactions between BR/PPS and the immune system to protect the body from pathological threats at both the behavioral and molecular levels.

Projects and involved researchers

  1. BR/PPS alterations during sleep and dream (Julia, Brunella, Michela)
  2. Effects of bodily perspective on memory and spatial navigation (Silvia)
  3. Effects of BR/PPS alterations on decision making (Michel)
  4. Interactions between BR/PPS and the immune system (Silvia, Julia)

BR and PPS impairments in clinical populations

Previous studies from our and other groups demonstrated that BR and PPS are impaired in various pathologies. We are collaborating with our clinical partners (link to clinical partners) to study the impairments of BR and PPS in clinical conditions such as stroke, amputation and Alzheimer’s disease and how these impairments evolve with various treatments. These investigations are important for improving clinical treatments and assessing their therapeutic effects. In addition, we use neuroimaging (fMRI and EGG) to quantify the associated neural plasticity.

Projects and involved researchers

  1. BR/PPS in stroke (Stéphanie, Giulio, Michel, Michela)
  2. BR/PPS in amputees (Michel, Giulio)
  3. BR/PPS in Alzheimer disease (Silvia)