The Other Understanding in Movement - Toum

The Other Understanding in Movement (TOUM) project has the main goal of analyzing a specific type of embodied social practices, i.e. motor behavior during gestures, in children with typical development (TD) and in children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), by using novel non-obtrusive wearable technologies.
 The embodied approach within cognitive sciences highlights the importance of studying subject/environment relations, in relation to humans ‘environment' is essentially social environment, as most human cognitive abilities build upon social interaction.

This project focuses on specific aspects of intersubjective understanding in order to unravel their core underlying mechanisms. Recent theoretical and physiological approaches to intersubjectivity stress the direct ability that humans have to understand others' behavior as meaningful. How may we be immediately capable of understanding others as intentional beings and bearers of mental content during social interaction? The main hypothesis is that specific embodied practices present at an early phase of development contribute towards shaping later emerging adult abilities. Therefore these practices call for deeper investigation.

This research will focus on non-verbal communication in the form of gestures, which play an important part in a child's everyday social interactions, also contributing to the emergence of language. The main hypothesis will be verified through the elaboration of a specific taxonomy and through the development of new non-obtrusive wearable technological platforms, which will consent to perform an analysis of children's motor repertoire during gesture behavior both in children with TD and in children with ASD. This will allow assessing the importance of specific early-embodied practices in shaping later folk psychological abilities to ascribe intentions and beliefs to others, shedding new light on the core mechanisms of intersubjective understanding. This research will also prove of specific relevance to better our knowledge of ASD, a deficit which impairs the capacity to interact socially in an effective way.

The main objectives that the TOUM research project will try to address are:

a. theoretical objective: to verify core theoretical assumptions made by the embodied approach, considering the role of children's motor repertoire during gestures in building our ability to understand others;

b. functional objective: to produce an appropriate taxonomy for the qualitative analysis of gesture behavior both in children with TD and in children with ASD, with the scope of uncovering the mechanisms underlying the emergence of intentional understanding;

c. technological objective: to develop new non-obtrusive, user-friendly technological platforms and methods allowing the extraction of more information on children's motor repertoire during gesture activity than is currently possible.

An analysis and a classification of gestures which relies on this data collection system will be able to capture new qualitative aspects of gesture behaviour and offer quantitative movement measures that have not been accomplished to date and may find application within future research.


Project ID: 
Project funding: 
Other - National
Funding source: 
Project Timeframe: 
Wed, 01/12/2010 - Sat, 30/11/2013
ISTC Contact Person: 
Laura Sparaci
  • autism;
  • children;
  • embodiment;
  • gestures;
  • motor actions;
  • motor sensors;