The overall goal of our research is to understand how multimodal sensory information (visual, auditory and tactile) is used to plan and control movements.
Most manual tasks involve sequentially linked actions, or action phases, such as grasping, lifting and replacing objects, for example a cup on a table when drinking coffee. Although we perform such tasks seemingly effortlessly, they require intricate sensorimotor processing by the nervous system. The completion of each action phase is usually associated with a mechanical event, such as breaking or making contact between the cup and the table. Such events are typically associated with discrete multimodal (visual, auditory and tactile) sensory events. The central question in our current research is how these multimodal sensory events are used during manual tasks. Other questions concern how people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) uses multimodal sensory events to control their movements.
ASD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders and is characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication. However, ASD also involves less well-researched sensory and motor symptoms. Recently, sensory symptoms has been incorporated as a diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Motor symptoms are manifested as slow and inaccurate (“clumsy”) actions, and have been recognized as common, significant and among the earliest manifestations of the disorder.
In our research, we use experimental tasks that can sensitively detect abnormalities in the processing of multimodal sensory feedback. We use a wide range of experimental techniques that allows investigation of sensory and motor functioning from the behavioral level to central processing in the brain: We register movement-related parameters (such as hand position and velocity), electromyography (EMG) signals related with muscle activations, and eye-movements that indicate the allocation of visuospatial attention. The brain activation patterns supporting sensorimotor processing are investigated with fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging).
The overall goal of our research is to understand how multimodal sensory information is used to plan and control movements. A better understanding of motor and sensory impairments in ASD may provide key insights into the neural foundations of the disorder and elucidate theories regarding the cause of ASD symptoms. This understanding might be used to develop tools to objectively diagnose and treat ASD symptoms, and to quantify improvements in performance.