The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Evidence of a common neural substrate for stone toolmaking and language syntax: An activation likelihood estimate metanalysis


1Anthropology, Indiana University, 2Psychology and Brain Science, Indiana University, 3Brain Evolution Lab, Indiana University, 4Stone Age Institute, Indiana University, 5Cognitive Science, Indiana University

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Recent neuroimaging studies of stone toolmaking have found evidence of an overlap between brain circuits involved in both stone toolmaking and language production. However, no study has directly compared stone toolmaking with language tasks. In this meta-analysis, we performed Activation Likelihood Estimate (ALE) on imaging studies in the following domains: seven syntax, six sequential movement, and four stone toolmaking studies. The stone toolmaking studies include Oldowan and Acheulean replication by novice and experts. ALE is a coordinate-based technique for the convergence of activation foci from different studies.

Conjunction of stone toolmaking+syntax found overlapping activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus, left and right primary association cortex, left premotor cortex, and right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. Conjunction of stone toolmaking+sequential movement estimates found overlapping activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus, left somatosensory association cortex, left and right primary motor cortex, and right primary sensory cortex. These results support the interpretation of earlier studies hypothesizing a common neural substrate for some language processes, sequential movement, and stone toolmaking. These results also support the contentions of Wynn (2002) and Holloway (1969) who have proposed that, at the scale of evolutionary history, changes in Paleolithic technology may be indicative of changing hominid cognitive capacities.

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