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At the Per2Con Group we study the relation between perception and symbolic cognition in the brain: on one side, we investigate which aspects of perception act as fundamental building blocks for the learning and development of language-based symbolic cognition; on the other side we study how symbolic acquisitions in turn shape perception.
We combine different methodological approaches and study different populations: according to the core research question at hand, we use either psychophysics and/or neuroimaging (fMRI, M-EEG) in adults, children and/or infants from different cultures (e.g. westerns compared to amazon indigenous indians) and with different cognitive/perceptual skills (typically developing compared to dyscalculics and/or dyslexics).Our research spans over two main areas: number processing and word processing.

Research directions

  • Number processing - we study the fundamental skill that humans share with other animals to extract and mentally represent discrete and continuous quantities from their physical environment. In particular we study the ability to quantify sets on the basis of their numerosity (the number of objects), its neuronal correlates, its development, and its role in grounding higher level cognitive skills, such as formal symbolic arithmetic. We also study dyscalculia with the aim of understanding whether and how impaired perceptual quantity-related skills may hinder the ability to properly acquire knowledge and skills in symbolic number processing.
  • Word processing - we study how the meaning of concrete words is acquired, stored and retrieved. We use imaging and behavioral methods to test the hypothesis that word meaning is an emergent property of the simultaneous re-activation of both perceptual and more abstract features of the objects implied by the words. Todate we have shown the following: 1. that individual features defining word meaning are represented in those specific cortical regions that encode those features when we interact with the objects in the real word; 2. feature-specific semantic representations emerge very early (by 200 ms) and in parallel during reading. We are currently studying the cortical changes occurring during novel symbol learning, thus visualizing how the brain supports the emergence of novel semantic representations.



For a complete list: Manuela Piazza personal page

Ongoing collaborations 

  • Marco Zorzi (University of Padova, IT)
  • Stanislas Dehaene (College de France, Neurospin, FR)
  • Evelyn Eger (NeuroSpin, FR)
  • Veronique Izard (LPP, CNRS, FR)
  • Daniel Hyde (University of Illinois, USA)


Research group webpage