Talking with hands: body representation in British Sign Language users

Federico Brusa, Lukas Kretzschmar, Francesca G. Magnani, Graham Turner, Maria Garraffa, Anna Sedda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
54 Downloads (Pure)


Body representation (BR) refers to the mental representation of motor, sensory, emotional and semantic information about the physical body. This cognitive representation is used in our everyday life, continuously, even though most of the time we do not appreciate it consciously. In some cases, BR is vital to be able to communicate. A crucial feature of signed languages (SLs), for instance, is that body parts such as hands are used to communicate. Nevertheless, little is known about BR in SL: is the communicative function of the body overwriting the physical constraints? Here, we explored this question by comparing twelve British Sign Language (BSL) learners to seventeen tango dancers (body expertise but not for communication) and fourteen control subjects (no special body expertise). We administered the Body Esteem Scale (BES), the Hand Laterality Task (HLT) and the Mental Motor Chronometry (MMC). To control for visual imagery, we administered ad hoc control tasks. We did not identify parameters able to differentiate between SL users and the other groups, whereas the more implicit parameters distinguished clearly tango dancers from controls. Importantly, neither tasks on visual imagery nor the BES revealed differences. Our findings offer initial evidence that linguistic use of the body not necessarily influences the cognitive components we explored of body representation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)731-744
Number of pages14
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number3
Early online date3 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • Body representation
  • Body schema
  • British Sign Language
  • Expertise
  • Mental imagery
  • Motor imagery
  • Motor skills

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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