Posted by & filed under Genetics: The Biological Context of Development, Language Development, Language-Thought, Learning, Motivation-Emotion, Neuroscience.

Description: Ok here is a question. What do tool use and spoken language syntax have in common? No idea? I do not blame you. What if I provided you with a hint (a bit of data) suggesting that the two are correlated AND that training in one of them (tool use OR processing complex spoken language syntax) leads to improvement in the other? Remember if two things are correlated it may be that one causes the other OR it may be that they are both caused by or linked to a third thing. As it is very hard to imagine how tool use proficiency changes might cause linguistic syntax proficiency changes think about what the third thing that influences both might be and then read the article linked below to see what researchers suggest.

Source: Using mechanical tools improves our language skills, study finds, ScienceDaily.

Date: November 11, 2021

Image by SandeepHanda from Pixabay

Article Link:

It may be a bit baffling to try and figure out why it might be that tool use and syntax proficiency are controlled by the same region in the brain and the researchers who demonstrated the connection are not forthcoming with an explanation other than to point to it in their data. Now, while going beyond one’s data is considered poor form or poor scientific practice, think about what an explanation might involve. How about this. Tool use (by humans and chimpanzees and crows and other species) is discussed and studied historically with as much intensity as is the evolutionary emergence and development of spoken communication. Perhaps it would help to see spoken language for what it is… a VERY powerful tool.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is the relationship between tool use and syntactic proficiency observed in the research discussed in the linked article?
  2. What might training with tool use improve syntactic proficiency and vise verse?
  3. What are several clinical/therapeutic application possibilities of the finding you discussed in response to the previous question?

References (Read Further):

Simon Thibault, Raphaël Py, Angelo Mattia Gervasi, Romeo Salemme, Eric Koun, Martin Lövden, Véronique Boulenger, Alice C. Roy, Claudio Brozzoli. Tool use and language share syntactic processes and neural patterns in the basal ganglia. Science, 2021; 374 (6569) Link

Boesch, C., & Boesch, H. (1990). Tool use and tool making in wild chimpanzees. Folia primatologica, 54(1-2), 86-99. Link

Johnson-Frey, S. H. (2004). The neural bases of complex tool use in humans. Trends in cognitive sciences, 8(2), 71-78. Link

Goldenberg, G., & Spatt, J. (2009). The neural basis of tool use. Brain, 132(6), 1645-1655. Link

Krützen, M., Mann, J., Heithaus, M. R., Connor, R. C., Bejder, L., & Sherwin, W. B. (2005). Cultural transmission of tool use in bottlenose dolphins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102(25), 8939-8943. Link

Ackermann, H., Hage, S. R., & Ziegler, W. (2014). Brain mechanisms of acoustic communication in humans and nonhuman primates: An evolutionary perspective. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(6), 529-546. Link

Fitch, W. T. (2000). The evolution of speech: a comparative review. Trends in cognitive sciences, 4(7), 258-267. Link

Steele, J., Ferrari, P. F., & Fogassi, L. (2012). From action to language: comparative perspectives on primate tool use, gesture and the evolution of human language. Link

Sterelny, K. (2012). Language, gesture, skill: the co-evolutionary foundations of language. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 367(1599), 2141-2151. Link

Herrmann, E., Call, J., Hernández-Lloreda, M. V., Hare, B., & Tomasello, M. (2007). Humans have evolved specialized skills of social cognition: The cultural intelligence hypothesis. science, 317(5843), 1360-1366. Link