Humans have been called “the symbolic species”, because they are capable of grasping abstract symbolic patterns that could be generalized to a broad range of novel stimuli. This capacity is most evident in the domain of language learning, as well as in mathematics and music, where human cognition is vastly more developed than that of other primates. It is often proposed that language faculty reflects a broader human-specific ability to acquire and represent recursive structures or regular combinations of symbols. Searching for comparative evidence on the neural representation of rules and symbols may therefore shed light on the evolutionary origin of human-specific cognition.
The lab is aimed to investigate the neural mechanisms of sequence learning, working memory and self-consciousness in both humans and non-human primates. By conducting psychophysics, electroencephalogram (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments in humans, and single-unit recordings and fMRI in awake monkeys, we are interested in answering the following questions:
Q1. How do human brains encode linguistic and non-linguistic sequence structures?
Q2. How do monkey brains encode hierarchical structures in sequences? Can we identify the neural ensembles representing nested-structures in homologous areas of human language regions?
Q3. In what ways do the neural codes differ in human and non-human primates, for encoding the primitives and combinatorial operations of incoming sequences, as often associated with memory?
Q4. What are the neural mechanisms of cross-modal working memory?
Q5. How do human and monkey brains represent bodily self-consciousness?