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Neuropsychologia. 2011 Sep;49(11):3018-26. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.06.029. Epub 2011 Jul 7.

The signer and the sign: cortical correlates of person identity and language processing from point-light displays.

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ESRC Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL), Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London, London, UK.


In this study, the first to explore the cortical correlates of signed language (SL) processing under point-light display conditions, the observer identified either a signer or a lexical sign from a display in which different signers were seen producing a number of different individual signs. Many of the regions activated by point-light under these conditions replicated those previously reported for full-image displays, including regions within the inferior temporal cortex that are specialised for face and body-part identification, although such body parts were invisible in the display. Right frontal regions were also recruited - a pattern not usually seen in full-image SL processing. This activation may reflect the recruitment of information about person identity from the reduced display. A direct comparison of identify-signer and identify-sign conditions showed these tasks relied to a different extent on the posterior inferior regions. Signer identification elicited greater activation than sign identification in (bilateral) inferior temporal gyri (BA 37/19), fusiform gyri (BA 37), middle and posterior portions of the middle temporal gyri (BAs 37 and 19), and superior temporal gyri (BA 22 and 42). Right inferior frontal cortex was a further focus of differential activation (signer>sign). These findings suggest that the neural systems supporting point-light displays for the processing of SL rely on a cortical network including areas of the inferior temporal cortex specialized for face and body identification. While this might be predicted from other studies of whole body point-light actions (Vaina, Solomon, Chowdhury, Sinha, & Belliveau, 2001) it is not predicted from the perspective of spoken language processing, where voice characteristics and speech content recruit distinct cortical regions (Stevens, 2004) in addition to a common network. In this respect, our findings contrast with studies of voice/speech recognition (Von Kriegstein, Kleinschmidt, Sterzer, & Giraud, 2005). Inferior temporal regions associated with the visual recognition of a person appear to be required during SL processing, for both carrier and content information.

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