Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Science




Jody Culham


Although functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can be used to study the neural mechanisms underlying greatly expanded cognitive functions in humans like tool use, surprisingly little fMRI research has been done on actual tool use. In fact, due to technical constraints, most fMRI studies have used pantomimed actions as a proxy for real use. However, human neuropsychology patients who are impaired at pantomiming often improve when handling a tool suggesting potential neural differences. We used fMRI to record brain activation while 13 right-handed participants performed one of two tasks, real or pantomime tool use with one of two tools, a plastic fork or knife. Although the networks overlapped considerably, real tool use drove greater activation in sensorimotor regions while pantomime drove greater activation in association cortex, including the tool network. Results suggest real tool use invokes finer sensorimotor control while pantomime involves semantic and conceptual aspects that may account for the neuropsychological differences.