Sensorimotor Experiences and Mental Representations

What We Do

Perception and representation: how we see and interpret, how do we make sense and represent the external world.

Research activities within this topic exploit advanced tools in cognitive neuroscience to characterize the neural correlates of perception and content-specific mental representations, semantic processing and knowledge organization, action representation


  • Abstract concept representation

  • Action representation and moto control

  • The representation of static naturalistic stimuli at resting

  • Neuroscience and Art

  • High-res imaging of brain activity (during perceptual stimulation)

Who We Are

Principal InvestigatorAssociate Professor, MD PhDScholar, ResearchGate, Twitter
PhD Student
PhD Student
Principal InvestigatorFull Professor, MD, PhDScholar, ResearchGate, Twitter
PhD Student
Assistant Professor, PhD
Scholar, ResearchGate, Twitter
PhD Student
PhD Student
Methods Developer, MD, PhD
Scholar, ResearchGate, Twitter
PhD Student
PhD Student

What We Publish

The sensory-deprived brain as a unique tool to understand brain development and function

Ricciardi E, Bottari D, Ptito M, Roeder B, Pietrini P. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 108:78-82. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.10.017. Epub 2019 Oct 28, Jan 2020.
On October 11th–13th 2018, the second edition of “The Blind Brain Workshop” was held in Lucca (Italy), which gathered most among the leading worldwide experts in the study of the sensory-deprived brain. The aim of the workshop was to tackle, from multiple and different perspectives, the current conceptual and methodological challenges on the topic and to understand how perceptual experience sculpts the brain during development, as well as in adulthood.Altogether, the contributions of this three-day workshop empha- sized that the current understanding of the structural and functional organization as well as the development of the brain has significantly been promoted by the studies on the consequences of sensory-depri- vation both in humans and animals. Nevertheless, by providing a un- ique opportunity for a direct comparison of different sensory-depriva- tion models, the workshop has uncovered open aspects in blindness, deafness and even somatosensory deprivation research. Suggestions for a substantial rethinking were postulated. The event additionally high- lighted the role of early sensory experiences for functional develop- ment. In particular, the research on sensory-restoration has provided first evidence for the role of experience in typical development of dif- ferent neural systems.
See the whole Special Issue 'Rethinking the sensory-deprived brain: hints from the Blind Brain Workshop 2018' on Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews

Common spatiotemporal processing of visual features shapes object representation.

Papale P, Betta M, Handjaras G, Malfatti G, Rampinini AC, Cecchetti L, Pietrini P, Ricciardi E, Turella L, Leo A. Scientific Reports, 9(1),7601, 2019.
Biological vision relies on representations of the physical world at different levels of complexity.Relevant features span from simple low-level properties, as contrast and spatial frequencies, to object-based attributes, as shape and category. However, how these features are integrated into coherent percepts is still debated. Moreover, these dimensions often share common biases: for instance, stimuli from the same category (e.g., tools) may have similar shapes. Here, using magnetoencephalography, we revealed the temporal dynamics of feature processing in human subjects attending to objects from six semantic categories. By employing Relative Weights Analysis, we mitigated collinearity between model-based descriptions of stimuli and showed that low-level properties (contrast and spatial frequencies), shape (medial-axis) and category are represented within the same spatial locationsearly in time: 100–150 ms after stimulus onset. This fast and overlapping processing may result fromindependent parallel computations, with categorical representation emerging later than the onsetof low-level feature processing, yet before shape coding. Categorical information is represented both before and after shape, suggesting a role for this feature in the refinement of categorical matching.

How concepts are encoded in the human brain: A modality independent, category-based cortical organization of semantic knowledge

Handjaras G, Ricciardi E (co-first author), Leo A, Lenci A, Cecchetti L, Cosottini M, Marotta G, Pietrini P. Neuroimage, 135:232-242, 2016
How conceptual knowledge is represented in the human brain remains to be determined. To address the differ- ential role of low-level sensory-based and high-level abstract features in semantic processing, we combined be- havioral studies of linguistic production and brain activity measures by functional magnetic resonance imaging in sighted and congenitally blind individuals while they performed a property-generation task with concrete nouns from eight categories, presented through visual and/or auditory modalities. Patterns of neural activity within a large semantic cortical network that comprised parahippocampal, lateral occipital, temporo-parieto-occipital and inferior parietal cortices correlated with linguistic production and were in- dependent both from the modality of stimulus presentation (either visual or auditory) and the (lack of) visual experience. In contrast, selected modality-dependent differences were observed only when the analysis was lim- ited to the individual regions within the semantic cortical network. We conclude that conceptual knowledge in the human brain relies on a distributed, modality-independent cortical representation that integrates the partial category and modality specific information retained at a regional level.
See also Handjaras G, Leo A, Cecchetti L, Papale P, Lenci A, Marotta G, Pietrini P, Ricciardi E. Modality-independent encoding of individual concepts in the left parietal cortex. Neuropsychologia. 105:39-49, 2017 - doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.05.001

A synergy-based hand control is encoded in human motor cortical areas

Leo A, Handjaras G, Bianchi M, Marino H, Gabiccini M, Guidi A, Scilingo EP, Pietrini P, Bicchi A, Santello M, Ricciardi E. Elife, 2016 Feb 16;5 pii: e13420. doi: 10.7554/eLife.13420
How the human brain controls hand movements to carry out different tasks is still debated. The concept of synergy has been proposed to indicate functional modules that may simplify the control of hand postures by simultaneously recruiting sets of muscles and joints. However, whether and to what extent synergic hand postures are encoded as such at a cortical level remains unknown. Here, we combined kinematic, electromyography, and brain activity measures obtained by functional magnetic resonance imaging while subjects performed a variety of movements towards virtual objects. Hand postural information, encoded through kinematic synergies, were represented in cortical areas devoted to hand motor control and successfully discriminated individual grasping movements, significantly outperforming alternative somatotopic or muscle-based models. Importantly, hand postural synergies were predicted by neural activation patterns within primary motor cortex. These findings support a novel cortical organization for hand movement control and open potential applications for brain-computer interfaces and neuroprostheses.

Our collaborations

  • Corrado Sinigaglia - University of Milan, Italy

  • Tomaso Vecchi - University of Pavia, Italy

  • Zaira Cattaneo - University of Milan Bicocca, Italy

  • Olivier Collignon - Institute of Psychology, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

  • Marco Santello - Arizona State University, AZ-USA

  • Antonio Bicchi, University of Pisa, Italy

  • Maurice Ptito, Université de Montrèal, Canada

  • Francesca Garbarini - University of Turin, Italy

  • Simone Rossi - University of Siena, Italy

  • Viviana Betti - University of Rome 'La Sapienza', Italy

  • Luca Turella - University of Trento, Italy

  • Giovanna Marotta and Alessandro Lenci - University of Pisa, Italy

What We Develop

fMRI encoding/decoding algorithms

Modeling approaches

Our Talks

Emiliano Ricciardi - Emiliano Ricciardi - Invited Lecture entitled ''One, No One and One Hundred Thousand: from brain activation to information content' at the 'Symposium by the International Organization of Pyschophysiology, 2020' - International Society of Neuroregulation and Research 28th Annual Conference, July 31, 2020

Francesca Setti, Adrian Onicas and Francesca Simonelli - Poster presentation at Virtual Annual Meeting of the Human Brain Mapping Organization 2020 - June 2020

Emiliano Ricciardi - Invited Seminar: “Rethinking the sensory deprived brain”, University of Bologna, Cesena, April 7, 2020

Emiliano Ricciardi - Keynote Lecture: “La rappresentazione più astratta dell’azione: il contributo delle neuroimmagini” – Convegno Nazionale Scientifico Associazione Italiana Disprassie dell’Età Evolutiva, Rome (Italy), November 17-18, 2019

Emiliano Ricciardi - Oral presentation: “Dalla deprivazione sensoriale alla riabilitazione: cosa abbiamo imparato dal cervello dei ciechi congeniti? in “Simposio S16: Il mondo della disabilità visiva: stato dell’arte e nuove frontiere di ricerca”, XXV Congresso AIP Sezione Sperimentale Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele, Milano 18-20 Settembre 2019

Emiliano Ricciardi - Keynote Lecture: ‘Uno, nessuno e centomila’ voxels: from brain activation to information content. XXVI Annual Meeting of the Italian Society of Psychophysiology and Cognitive Neuroscience, Turin Italy, November 16th, 2018

Emiliano Ricciardi - Invited Lecture – Blind Brain Workshop: ‘on the Sensory Deprived Brain’ – Lucca, Italy, October 11-13, 2018

Emiliano Ricciardi - Invited Lecture: ‘What is wrong with fMRI?’ – Satelite Symposium SIPF-SINC, Bari, Italy – June 27th, 2018