Over the decades there have been several theories from various aspects of cognitive science that have appealed to a link between perception and action as a way of understanding information processing in the brain. The example that I'm most familiar with is Liberman and Mattingly's Motor Theory of Speech Perception (Liberman & Mattingly, 1985), which, starting almost 50 years ago, made the following claims — reviewed in Galantucci, et al. (2011):

  1. "speech is special" -- there are specialized pathways in auditory cortex for processing speech
  2. perceiving speech is perceiving the speech gestures of the talker, not necessarily the acoustic patterns of the speech waveform
  3. the motor system is recruited for processing speech

Although more recent work in neuroscience has discredited many of these claims, particularly the first one, there do seem to be several recent results (e.g., Wilson, et al. 2006; Fadiga, et al. 2002; Pulvermueller, et al., 2006; D'Ausilio et al. 2009) that establish a very interesting link between speech perception and motor cortex activity.

At a higher level, this sort of theory fits into the general "emulation" framework proposed by Grush (2006), and also agrees well with insights from the mirror-neurons branch of neuroscience research.

My question is, now that all of this "newer" research is five to ten years old, have there been even more recent results -- especially from non-speech areas of cognitive science -- that might help form a unified theory of action and perception ? How might we go about building up such a unified theory based on what's currently known ? What further studies or models do we need to evaluate emulation as a fundamental building block of cognition ?


D'Ausilio, A., et al. (2009). The Motor Somatotopy of Speech Perception. Current Biology 19(5): pp. 381—385
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.01.017

Fadiga, L., et al. (2002). Speech listening specifically modulates the excitability of tongue muscles: a TMS study. European Journal of Neuroscience 15(2): pp. 399—402
PMID: 11849307

Galantucci, B., et al. (2011). The motor theory of speech perception reviewed. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 13(3): pp. 361–377
PMCID: PMC2746041

Grush, R. (2006). The emulation theory of representation: motor control, imagery, and perception Behavioral & Brain Sciences 27(3): pp. 377—96
PMID: 15736871

Liberman, A., & Mattingly, D. (1985). The motor theory of speech perception revised. Cognition 21(1): pp. 1—36
DOI: 10.1016/0010-0277(85)90021-6

Pulvermueller, F., et al. (2006). Motor cortex maps articulatory features of speech sounds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103(20): pp. 7865—7870
PMCID: PMC1472536 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0509989103

Wilson, S. M., et al. (2004). Listening to speech activates motor areas involved in speech production. Nature Neuroscience 7(7): pp. 701—702
PMID: 15184903 DOI: 10.1038/nn1263


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