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How a hammer can improve your language skills

How a hammer can improve your language skills

The accepted perception that our language ability is linked to specialized regions of the brain has changed in recent years. We now know that there is a relationship between the ability to understand complex syntax and the fine motor ability to manipulate tools. Both capacities are controlled by cells in the basal ganglia.

nervous onion

An important function of the basal ganglia is the initiation and termination of movements. The basal ganglia also control unconscious movements such as contraction of skeletal muscles, an example of which is arm swinging when walking. The basal ganglia are also important in the processes of consciousness, memory, planning, and the modulation of emotions.

Source: Wikipedia

Researcher at Karolinska Institutet and University of Gothenburg in collaboration with Lyon Neuroscience Research Center, INSERMand the University of Lyon in France, for the first time we were able to describe this relationship through behavioral measurements and brain imaging with an MRI camera.

The study was conducted in France and the participants were divided into three groups with 26 people in each group, two of which were control groups.

Activates the basal glands

During the motor exercise, participants would place small wooden sticks into irregular holes using a pair of 30 cm long pliers. The language exercises consisted of answering grammatically complex phrases. The participants’ brain activity was measured at all stages.

“Interestingly, we were able to show that tool handling and grammatical exercises activated the same group of neurons in the brain, the so-called basal ganglia, which are involved in voluntary movements,” says Claudio Bruzzoli, a researcher at Inserm and an associate researcher in the Department of Neuroscience. Neurobiology, Care and Society Sciences, Karolinska Institutet.

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In the next step, the researchers investigated whether training one ability could improve the other. That is, whether using pliers also improves the ability to understand grammatically complex phrases.

Now the participants did the language exercise before and after 30 minutes of forceps motor training. One of the control groups did their motor exercises without aids, while another group did not.

Better results after kinetic workouts

The researchers found that participants who performed fine motor exercises with the forceps did better with the challenging rules. The control groups did not improve their results in the linguistic components.

In addition, the results showed that exercises in grammatical comprehension improved the motor use of the instrument.

The researchers are now discussing how the results can be transferred to clinical use.

We are developing a protocol for rehabilitation and improvement of language ability for patients with relatively preserved motor abilities, such as adolescents with developmental language disorders. In addition to these important possibilities, the findings provide insight into how language has evolved throughout human history. The use of tools by our distant ancestors may have led to cognitive requirements that contributed to the increased accuracy of written and spoken language, says Claudio Bruzzoli.

Scientific material:

Tool use and language in grammatical processes and neural patterns in the basal ganglia. (Simon Thibault, Raphael Bey, Angelo Mattia Gervasi, Romeo Salmi, Eric Kohn, Martin Lofden, Veronique Bollinger, Alice C Roy, Claudio Bruzzoli), Science.


Claudio Brozzoli, Researcher in the Department of Neurobiology, Care and Community Sciences, Karolinska Institutet, [email protected]

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The research was funded by the Swedish Research Council, ANR (National Agency for Research), and LabEx ASLAN.