Involvement of the mouth to develop abstract concepts
Do you open your mouth when you fantasize? This is normal. This happens because the development of abstract concepts involves the motor system connected to linguistic production (mouth) even if a verbal answer is not required. So, one of the most sophisticated abilities that differentiates us from other primates is founded on and benefits from the eminently “social” nature of our species.
This results from a study jointly conducted by Sapienza and CNR, coordinated by Anna Borghi from Sapienza University, Laura Barca and Luca Tummolini from ISTC-CNR and Ferdinand Binkofski from the University Hospital of Aachen, which associates the development of abstract concepts with the motor system and the linguistic production.
“In order to understand a concrete concept such as chair,” explains Anna Borghi, “we must have seen many chairs, but to comprehend an abstract concept such as liberty, which aggregates very different experiences, we need the contributions given by others”.
“When we think about an abstract object we summon our linguistic experience, both that related to learning about the concept and that related to the others who have helped us understand this concept. That is why we activate the motor system related to our mouths”, Borghi continued.
The study, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Science, is based on a trial conducted on adults and 8-year old children. The results show that limiting orofacial mobility during the acquisition of linguistic and social competences slows down the acquisition of abstract concepts, due to a mechanism referred to as “social metacognition.”
“Individuals” concluded Luca Tummolini “are aware that they need the help of others; the activation of our mouths is preparatory to this need to request information”.