Center for the Neuroscience of Embodied Cognition (CeNEC)
Director: Lisa Aziz-Zadeh PhD
Our bodies are one of the most fundamental ways we understand ourselves, the world, and other people. The Center for the Neuroscience of Embodied Cognition’s research program explores the idea that rudimentary sensory-motor brain regions, which may have been originally designed for processing our own body states, may be intrinsically involved in processing aspects of higher cognition, including language, thought, emotions, empathy, and social understanding.
Current projects include:
From Sensory-Motor to Social in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Children with ASD often have both motor and sensory deficits in addition to the social deficits that are the hallmark of the disorder. However, the neurological basis of how those sensorimotor deficits relate to the core social deficits is poorly understood. Here we compare motor deficits in ASD to motor deficits in Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD). Similarly, we compare sensory deficits in ASD to sensory deficits in Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). In this way, we hope to better understand the relationship between sensory-motor processing to social deficits in ASD. This work is supported by an NIH R01 grant.
Relationship between the Gut Microbiome, the Brain, and Behavior
The gut has three times more neurons than the spinal cord, and most of those connections send information from the gut to the brain. Much of the signaling in the gut comes from metabolites produced by the gut microbiome. However the relationship between the gut microbiome, the brain, and behavior is poorly understood. Here we try to better understand this relationship in both typically developing individuals as well as individuals with ASD. This work is supported by a grant from the Department of Defense.
Embodied Semantics and communication
Most of our metaphors are embodied: we “handle” situations; we “kick-off” a new year; we “chew over” decisions. Using behavioral studies we explore how language processing involves sensorimotor brain representations. We investigate both literal and metaphorical language.
Otherness and Belonging
Belonging is a fundamental relationship grounded in the interaction between an organism and its world. It is always a multi-directional relation where the world includes the social, physical, emotional, and cultural environment available to the organism. For human beings, belonging is a critical factor both in the creation and in the perception of meaning in life. It is just as important as food or water for our survival and well-being. A lack of belonging is an existential breakage in a human being’s relationship to their environment and to the world, and is a fundamental human need (Maslow, 1943). From an evolutionary perspective, the predisposition to belong is central to human existence and culture. Personality traits that motivate individuals to gain acceptance and avoid rejection are indispensable tools enabling survival and reproduction.
The goal of the current project is to understand the basic science underlying the human need and the multiple dimensions of belonging, and to provide data on bridging strategies that mitigate the feeling of otherness. Data generated by this project will inform intervention strategies. It is a collaboration between the USC CeNEC lab, the UC Berkeley Othering and Belonging Institute, and Google.
Past projects include:
The mirror neuron system post-stroke
How might we use our knowledge of the mirror neuron system to help motor recovery post-stroke? In a series of studies funded by the NIH, the American Heart Association, and the Dana Foundation, we explore how the mirror neuron system may be utilized for stroke neurorehabilitation. These studies use MRI, fMRI and behavioral data.