Publications by authors named "Tomaso Vecchi"

88 Publications

The Smart Aging Platform for Assessing Early Phases of Cognitive Impairment in Patients With Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Front Psychol 2021 15;12:635410. Epub 2021 Mar 15.

National Neurological Institute C. Mondino Foundation, Pavia, Italy.

Smart Aging is a serious game (SG) platform that generates a 3D virtual reality environment in which users perform a set of screening tasks designed to allow evaluation of global cognition. Each task replicates activities of daily living performed in a familiar environment. The main goal of the present study was to ascertain whether Smart Aging could differentiate between different types and levels of cognitive impairment in patients with neurodegenerative disease. Ninety-one subjects (mean age = 70.29 ± 7.70 years)-healthy older adults (HCs, = 23), patients with single-domain amnesic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI, = 23), patients with single-domain executive Parkinson's disease MCI (PD-MCI, = 20), and patients with mild Alzheimer's disease (mild AD, = 25)-were enrolled in the study. All participants underwent cognitive evaluations performed using both traditional neuropsychological assessment tools, including the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), Montreal Overall Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), and the Smart Aging platform. We analyzed global scores on Smart Aging indices (i.e., accuracy, time, distance) as well as the Smart Aging total score, looking for differences between the four groups. The findings revealed significant between-group differences in all the Smart Aging indices: accuracy ( < 0.001), time ( < 0.001), distance ( < 0.001), and total Smart Aging score ( < 0.001). The HCs outperformed the mild AD, aMCI, and PD-MCI patients in terms of accuracy, time, distance, and Smart Aging total score. In addition, the mild AD group was outperformed both by the HCs and by the aMCI and PD-MCI patients on accuracy and distance. No significant differences were found between aMCI and PD-MCI patients. Finally, the Smart Aging scores significantly correlated with the results of the neuropsychological assessments used. These findings, although preliminary due to the small sample size, suggest the validity of Smart Aging as a screening tool for the detection of cognitive impairment in patients with neurodegenerative diseases.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.635410DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8005545PMC
March 2021

Risk Perception in a Real-World Situation (COVID-19): How It Changes From 18 to 87 Years Old.

Front Psychol 2021 2;12:646558. Epub 2021 Mar 2.

Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy.

Studies on age-related differences in risk perception in a real-world situation, such as the recent COVID-19 outbreak, showed that the risk perception of getting COVID-19 tends to decrease as age increases. This finding raised the question on what factors could explain risk perception in older adults. The present study examined age-related differences in risk perception in the early stages of COVID-19 lockdown, analyzing variables that can explain the differences in perception of risk at different ages. A total of 1,765 adults aged between 18 and 87 years old completed an online survey assessing perceived risk severity and risk vulnerability of getting COVID-19, sociodemographic status, emotional state, experience relating to COVID-19, and physical health status. Results showed that the older the participants, the lower the perceived vulnerability to getting COVID-19, but the higher the perceived severity. Different predictors explain the perception of risk severity and vulnerability at different ages. Overall, self-reported anxiety over the pandemic is a crucial predictor in explaining risk perceptions in all age groups. Theoretical and practical implications of the empirical findings are discussed.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.646558DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7961080PMC
March 2021

Top-down and Bottom-up Pathways to Developing Psychological Interventions.

JAMA Psychiatry 2021 Mar 10. Epub 2021 Mar 10.

Department of Clinical, Neuro and Developmental Psychology, Amsterdam Public Health research institute, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.4793DOI Listing
March 2021

Facemasks and face recognition: Potential impact on synaptic plasticity.

Neurobiol Dis 2021 06 26;153:105319. Epub 2021 Feb 26.

Department of Clinical Science and Translational Medicine, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy.

Visual recognition of facial expression modulates our social interactions. Compelling experimental evidence indicates that face conveys plenty of information that are fundamental for humans to interact. These are encoded at neural level in specific cortical and subcortical brain regions through activity- and experience-dependent synaptic plasticity processes. The current pandemic, due to the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection, is causing relevant social and psychological detrimental effects. The institutional recommendations on physical distancing, namely social distancing and wearing of facemasks are effective in reducing the rate of viral spread. However, by impacting social interaction, facemasks might impair the neural responses to recognition of facial cues that are overall critical to our behaviors. In this survey, we briefly review the current knowledge on the neurobiological substrate of facial recognition and discuss how the lack of salient stimuli might impact the ability to retain and consolidate learning and memory phenomena underlying face recognition. Such an "abnormal" visual experience raises the intriguing possibility of a "reset" mechanism, a renewed ability of adult brain to undergo synaptic plasticity adaptations.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nbd.2021.105319DOI Listing
June 2021

The foreign language effect on decision-making: A meta-analysis.

Psychon Bull Rev 2021 Feb 8. Epub 2021 Feb 8.

Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy.

In recent years, a growing body of literature has shown that being in a foreign language (FL) context affects the way in which people make choices. This phenomenon is known as the foreign language effect (FLE). The FLE affects both moral decision-making and risk-aversion tendencies, but no cumulative evidence is available. Herein, we aimed to estimate, through a meta-analytical approach, the effect of being in an FL context as compared with that of a native language (NL). We found 17 studies matching our criteria and, in total, 47 experiments were included (N = 38 investigated the FLE in the moral decision-making domain; N = 9 investigated the FLE in the risk-aversion domain). Results showed that FL affects participants' decisions as compared with NL in both the moral decision-making and risk-aversion domains, inducing participants to be more willing to accept harm in order to maximize outcomes in the former and reducing risk aversion in the latter. In addition, two metaregressions were performed on the studies that investigated the moral decision-making domain in order to assess whether participants' proficiency in the FL, or NL-FL similarity, moderated the observed effect. Our findings indicate that proficiency in the FL does not moderate the observed effect, while NL-FL similarity does. Our results support previous findings on the FLE and provide suggestions for future research.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3758/s13423-020-01871-zDOI Listing
February 2021

Cognitive Telerehabilitation for Older Adults With Neurodegenerative Diseases in the COVID-19 Era: A Perspective Study.

Front Neurol 2020 14;11:623933. Epub 2021 Jan 14.

Scientific Institute for Research, Hospitalization and Healthcare (IRCCS) Mondino Foundation, Pavia, Italy.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health problem that is radically transforming public and private healthcare organizations around the world, negatively affecting the rehabilitative treatments of non-COVID pathologies as well. In this situation, it becomes crucial to be able to guarantee the continuity of care also to all those patients with neurodegenerative diseases unable to reach healthcare services. Remote communication technologies are gaining momentum as potentially effective options to support health care interventions-including cognitive rehabilitation-while patients can stay safely at home. In this context, we are implementing HomeCoRe (i.e., Home Cognitive Rehabilitation software) in order to offer an innovative approach and a valid support for home-based cognitive rehabilitation in neurodegenerative diseases, such as mild cognitive impairment and early dementia. HomeCoRe has been developed within a research project between engineers and clinicians in order to obtain a usable and safe cognitive rehabilitation tool. This software has multiple advantages for patients and therapists over traditional approaches, as shown in its use in hospital settings. HomeCoRe could then represent an opportunity for accessing cognitive rehabilitation in all those situations where patients and therapists are not in the same location due to particular restrictions, such as COVID-19 pandemic.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2020.623933DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7840692PMC
January 2021

Cerebellum and semantic memory: A TMS study using the DRM paradigm.

Cortex 2021 Feb 5;135:78-91. Epub 2020 Dec 5.

Faculty of Medicine and Psychology, University La Sapienza, Rome, Italy; School of Life Sciences, University of Hull, Hull, United Kingdom.

Traditionally, the cerebellum has been linked to motor functions, but recent evidence suggest that it is also involved in a wide range of cognitive processes. Given the uniformity of cerebellar cortex microstructure, it has been proposed that the same computational process might underlie cerebellar involvement in both motor and cognitive functions. Within motor functions, the cerebellum it is involved in procedural memory and associative learning. Here, we hypothesized that the cerebellum may participate to semantic memory as well. To test whether the cerebellum is causally involved in semantic memory, we carried out two experiments in which participants performed the Deese-Roediger-McDermott paradigm (DRM) while online transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was administered over the right cerebellum or over a control site. In Experiment 1, cerebellar TMS selectively affected participants' discriminability for critical lures without affecting participants' discriminability for unrelated words and in Experiment 2 we found that the higher was the semantic association between new and studied words, the higher was the memory impairment caused by the TMS. These results indicate that the right cerebellum is causally involved in semantic memory and provide evidence consistent with theories that proposed the existence of a unified cerebellar function within motor and cognitive domains, as well with recent perspectives about cerebellar involvement in semantic memory and predictive functions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2020.11.017DOI Listing
February 2021

Job loss and health threatening events modulate risk-taking behaviours in the Covid-19 emergency.

Sci Rep 2020 12 17;10(1):22236. Epub 2020 Dec 17.

Cognitive Computational Neuroscience Research Unit, IRCCS Mondino Foundation, 27100, Pavia, Italy.

Covid-19 pandemic is exerting a tragic impact all around the world. First-person experience of life-threatening and stressful events can modify individuals' risk perception, and, consequently, risk-taking behaviours. Here we investigated risk-taking profiles in 130 Italian residents, and compared healthcare to non-healthcare workers, during the lockdown phase. We ad hoc developed the "Covid-19 Risk Task", including the classic monetary Holt-Laury Paired Lottery Task (Monetary Condition, MC) and two new ecological conditions exploring Covid-19 related risk-taking aptitudes in relation to different health (Health Status Condition, HsC) and employment (Employment Status Condition, EsC) outcomes. Results showed that, in the whole sample, individuals were more risk-averse in MC than in HsC and EsC. Moreover, a payoff increase produced a shift toward more risk-averse behaviours in MC, but not in HsC and EsC, where we found an opposite trend suggesting a more risk-loving behaviour. Finally, we found that healthcare workers were significantly less risk-averse compared to non-healthcare workers in EsC, but not in MC and HsC. These findings provided evidence of the possible effects of Covid-19 outbreak on risk-taking aptitudes. The negative impact on human choices and, consequently, on the whole world economy of this catastrophic life event must not be underestimated.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-78992-xDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7746716PMC
December 2020

A causal role for the cerebellum in semantic integration: a transcranial magnetic stimulation study.

Sci Rep 2020 10 23;10(1):18139. Epub 2020 Oct 23.

Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences, University of Pavia, via Bassi 21, 27100, Pavia, Italy.

Mounting evidence suggests that the cerebellum, a structure previously linked to motor function, is also involved in a wide range of non-motor processes. It has been proposed that the cerebellum performs the same computational processes in both motor and non-motor domains. Within motor functions, the cerebellum is involved in the integration of signals from multiple systems. Here we hypothesized that cerebellum may be involved in integration within semantic memory as well. Specifically, understanding a noun-adjective combination (e.g. red apple) requires combining the meaning of the adjective (red) with the meaning of the noun (apple). In two experiments, participants were asked to judge whether noun-adjective word-pairs were semantically related (e.g., red apple) or not (e.g., lucky milk) while online transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was administered over the right cerebellum or over a control site (vertex in Experiment 1 and visual cortex in Experiment 2). Cerebellar TMS caused a decrease in participants' accuracy for related word-pairs while accuracy for unrelated stimuli was not affected. A third experiment using a control task where subjects compared pairs of random letters showed no effect of TMS. Taken together these results indicate that the right cerebellum is involved specifically in the processing of semantically related stimuli. These results are consistent with theories that proposed the existence of a unified cerebellar function within motor and non-motor domains, as well with recent perspectives about cerebellar involvement in semantic memory and predictive cognition.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-75287-zDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7584601PMC
October 2020

The Effect of Blindness on Spatial Asymmetries.

Brain Sci 2020 Sep 23;10(10). Epub 2020 Sep 23.

IRCCS Mondino Foundation, 27100 Pavia, Italy.

The human cerebral cortex is asymmetrically organized with hemispheric lateralization pervading nearly all neural systems of the brain. Whether the lack of normal visual development affects hemispheric specialization subserving the deployment of visuospatial attention asymmetries is controversial. In principle, indeed, the lack of early visual experience may affect the lateralization of spatial functions, and the blind may rely on a different sensory input compared to the sighted. In this review article, we thus present a current state-of-the-art synthesis of empirical evidence concerning the effects of visual deprivation on the lateralization of various spatial processes (i.e., including line bisection, mirror symmetry, and localization tasks). Overall, the evidence reviewed indicates that spatial processes are supported by a right hemispheric network in the blind, hence, analogously to the sighted. Such a right-hemisphere dominance, however, seems more accentuated in the blind as compared to the sighted as indexed by the greater leftward bias shown in different spatial tasks. This is possibly the result of the more pronounced involvement of the right parietal cortex during spatial tasks in blind individuals compared to the sighted, as well as of the additional recruitment of the right occipital cortex, which would reflect the cross-modal plastic phenomena that largely characterize the blind brain.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10100662DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7597958PMC
September 2020

Covid-19 Outbreak In Italy: Are We Ready for the Psychosocial and the Economic Crisis? Baseline Findings From the PsyCovid Study.

Front Psychiatry 2020 10;11:556. Epub 2020 Jun 10.

Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy.

The Covid-19 pandemic is burning all over the world. National healthcare systems are facing the contagion with incredible strength, but concern regarding the psychosocial and economic effects is growing quickly. The PsyCovid Study assessed the influence of psychosocial variables on individual differences from the perceived impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the issues of health and economy in the Italian population. Italian volunteers from different regions completed an online anonymous survey. The main outcomes were the perceived impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on health and the economy. A two-way MANOVA evaluated differences in the main outcomes, with geographical area (northern, central, and southern regions) and professional status (healthcare workers or not) as factors. We then tested the relationship linking psychosocial variables (i.e. perceived distress and social isolation, empathy, and coping style) to the main outcomes through two different mediation models. 1163 responders completed the survey (835 females; mean age: 42 ± 13.5 y.o.; age range: 18-81 y.o.) between March 14 and 21, 2020. Healthcare workers and people living in northern Italy reported a significantly worse outbreak impact on health, but not on the economy. In the whole sample, distress and loneliness were key variables influencing the perceived impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on health, while empathy and coping style affected the perceived impact on the economy. The Covid-19 pandemic is a worldwide emergency in terms of psychological, social, and economic consequences. Our data suggests that in the Italian population, actual differences in individual perception of the Covid-19 outbreak severity for health are dramatically modulated by psychosocial frailty (i.e., distress and loneliness). At the same time, problem-oriented coping strategies and enhanced empathic abilities increase people's awareness of the severity of the impact of the Covid-19 emergency on economics. There is an immediate need for consensus guidelines and healthcare policies to support interventions aimed to manage psychosocial distress and increase population resilience towards the imminent crisis.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00556DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7297949PMC
June 2020

Instrumental expertise and musical timbre modulate the spatial representation of pitch.

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove) 2020 Aug 22;73(8):1162-1172. Epub 2020 Jan 22.

Department of Brain and Behavioural Sciences, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy.

Humans show a tendency to represent pitch in a spatial format. A classical finding supporting this spatial representation is the Spatial-Musical Association of Response Codes (SMARC) effect, reflecting faster responses to low tones when pressing a left/bottom-side key and to high tones when pressing a right/top-side key. Despite available evidence suggesting that the horizontal and vertical SMARC effect may be differently modulated by instrumental expertise and musical timbre, no study has so far directly explored this hypothesis in a unified framework. Here, we investigated this possibility by comparing the performance of professional pianists, professional clarinettists and non-musicians in an implicit timbre judgement task, in both horizontal and vertical response settings. Results showed that instrumental expertise significantly modulates the SMARC effect: whereas in the vertical plane a comparable SMARC effect was observed in all groups, in the horizontal plane the SMARC effect was significantly modulated by the specific instrumental expertise, with pianists showing a stronger pitch-space association compared to clarinettists and non-musicians. Moreover, the influence of pitch along the horizontal dimension was stronger in those pianists who started the instrumental training at a younger age. Results also showed an influence of musical timbre in driving the horizontal, but not the vertical, SMARC effect, with only piano notes inducing a pitch-space association. Taken together, these findings suggest that sensorimotor experience due to instrumental training and musical timbre affect the mental representation of pitch on the horizontal space, whereas the one on the vertical space would be mainly independent from musical practice.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1747021819897779DOI Listing
August 2020

The Impact of Failures and Successes on Affect and Self-Esteem in Young and Older Adults.

Front Psychol 2019 6;10:1795. Epub 2019 Aug 6.

Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy.

Older adults are assumed to change their affect states in reaction to positive and negative stimuli across the life span. However, little is known about the impact of success and failure events on age-related changes in affect states and, particularly, in self-esteem levels. To fill this gap in the literature, in the present study changes in affect and self-esteem in 100 young (19-30 years) and 102 older adults (65-81 years) were assessed after participants experienced success and failure in a demanding cognitive task. Overall, the success-failure manipulation induced changes on affect states and on state self-esteem, not on trait self-esteem. Regarding age differences, older and young adults were affected to the same extent by experiences of successes and failures. Theoretical considerations of the empirical findings are provided in the general discussion.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01795DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6691139PMC
August 2019

The Role of Binocular Vision in Driving Pseudoneglect in Visual and Haptic Bisection: Evidence From Strabismic and Monocular Blind Individuals.

Multisens Res 2020 03 17;33(4-5):549-567. Epub 2020 Mar 17.

2Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy.

Prior studies have shown that strabismic amblyopes do not exhibit pseudoneglect in visual line bisection, suggesting that the right-hemisphere dominance in the control of spatial attention may depend on a normally developing binocular vision. In this study, we aimed to investigate whether an abnormal binocular childhood experience also affects spatial attention in the haptic modality, thus reflecting a supramodal effect. To this aim, we compared the performance of normally sighted, strabismic and early monocular blind participants in a visual and a haptic line bisection task. In visual line bisection, strabismic individuals tended to err to the right of the veridical midpoint, in contrast with normally sighted participants who showed pseudoneglect. Monocular blind participants exhibited high variability in their visual performance, with a tendency to bisect toward the direction of the functioning eye. In turn, in haptic bisection, all participants consistently erred towards the left of the veridical midpoint. Taken together, our findings support the view that pseudoneglect in the visual and haptic modality relies on different functional and neural mechanisms.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/22134808-20191347DOI Listing
March 2020

Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis on Neuropsychological Effects of Long-Term Use of Opioids in Patients With Chronic Noncancer Pain.

Pain Pract 2019 03 10;19(3):328-343. Epub 2018 Dec 10.

IRCCS-Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Milan, Italy.

Background And Objective: Opioid treatments are often prolonged because of the pathology causing pain. We focused on the cognitive functions in patients with chronic pain treated with opioids. This topic is currently controversial, but in practice, the consequences are important in patients' daily lives, social interactions, working ability, and driving.

Database And Data Treatment: Medline and Embase databases were searched for eligible articles. We included studies that enrolled patients with chronic noncancer pain, studies with patients receiving opioid treatment, studies with a control group not using opioids, and studies in which cognitive functions were evaluated with specific tests. The cognitive areas examined were as follows: attention, reaction time, executive functions, psychomotor speed, memory, and working memory. From 356 abstracts screened, 9 articles satisfied eligibility criteria and were included in our review: 7 observational and 7 experimental studies. We classified the pain treatments as follows: opioids, other drugs active on the central nervous system (CNS) (antidepressants/anticonvulsants), and treatments not specifically targeted to the CNS.

Results: Statistically significant differences were seen only with regard to attention between opioids alone and no centrally acting treatment (standardized mean difference [SMD]: -0.53, 95% confidence interval [CI] : -0.91, -0.15; P = 0.007; I = 23%) and between opioids combined with antidepressants and/or anticonvulsants and no centrally acting treatment (SMD: -0.62, 95% CI: -1.04, -0.20; P = 0.004; I = 0%). No other significant differences were observed.

Conclusions: Opioids reduce attention when compared with treatments not targeted on the CNS. If opioids are used together with antidepressants and/or anticonvulsants, this effect increases.

Significance: These findings on the neuropsychological effects of opioids could be used to generate strategies to refine pain treatments.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/papr.12741DOI Listing
March 2019

Experiences of Mental Healthcare Reported by Individuals Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder: An Italian Qualitative Study.

Community Ment Health J 2019 01 3;55(1):129-136. Epub 2018 Aug 3.

IRCCS Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Milan, Italy.

This qualitative study explores experiences of mental health care by nine Italian users with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The findings from semi-structured interviews carried by professional researchers highlighted the following themes: mixed feelings about the diagnosis; lack of access to psychological interventions despite preferences of users; positive view of peer support, job as a safe haven, traumatic experiences of compulsory hospital admissions; need for crisis interventions as alternative to hospital admission. Most users' views look in accordance with evidence-based recommendations seldom implemented in practice. Future research directions, implications of users' expectations and experiences for service planning and quality improvement, are presented and discussed in the light of the qualitative available literature.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10597-018-0311-3DOI Listing
January 2019

The spatial representation of number, time, and serial order following sensory deprivation: A systematic review.

Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2018 07 7;90:371-380. Epub 2018 May 7.

Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milano, Italy; IRCCS Mondino Foundation, Pavia, Italy. Electronic address:

The spatial representation of numerical and temporal information is thought to be rooted in our multisensory experiences. Accordingly, we may expect visual or auditory deprivation to affect the way we represent numerical magnitude and time spatially. Here, we systematically review recent findings on how blind and deaf individuals represent abstract concepts such as magnitude and time (e.g., past/future, serial order of events) in a spatial format. Interestingly, available evidence suggests that sensory deprivation does not prevent the spatial "re-mapping" of abstract information, but differences compared to normally sighted and hearing individuals may emerge depending on the specific dimension considered (i.e., numerical magnitude, time as past/future, serial order). Herein we discuss how the study of sensory deprived populations may shed light on the specific, and possibly distinct, mechanisms subserving the spatial representation of these concepts. Furthermore, we pinpoint unresolved issues that need to be addressed by future studies to grasp a full understanding of the spatial representation of abstract information associated with visual and auditory deprivation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.04.021DOI Listing
July 2018

The Spatial Musical Association of Response Codes does not depend on a normal visual experience: A study with early blind individuals.

Atten Percept Psychophys 2018 May;80(4):813-821

Brain Connectivity Center, IRCCS Mondino Foundation, Pavia, Italy.

Converging evidence suggests that the perception of auditory pitch exhibits a characteristic spatial organization. This pitch-space association can be demonstrated experimentally by the Spatial Musical Association of Response Codes (SMARC) effect. This is characterized by faster response times when a low-positioned key is pressed in response to a low-pitched tone, and a high-positioned key is pressed in response to a high-pitched tone. To investigate whether the development of this pitch-space association is mediated by normal visual experience, we tested a group of early blind individuals on a task that required them to discriminate the timbre of different instrument sounds with varying pitch. Results revealed a comparable pattern in the SMARC effect in both blind participants and sighted controls, suggesting that the lack of prior visual experience does not prevent the development of an association between pitch height and vertical space.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3758/s13414-018-1495-xDOI Listing
May 2018

The role of the cerebellum in explicit and incidental processing of facial emotional expressions: A study with transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Neuroimage 2018 04 12;169:256-264. Epub 2017 Dec 12.

Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan 20126, Italy; Brain Connectivity Center, National Neurological Institute C. Mondino, Pavia 27100, Italy. Electronic address:

Growing evidence suggests that the cerebellum plays a critical role in non-motor functions, contributing to cognitive and affective processing. In particular, the cerebellum might represent an important node of the "limbic" network, underlying not only emotion regulation but also emotion perception and recognition. Here, we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to shed further light on the role of the cerebellum in emotional perception by specifically testing cerebellar contribution to explicit and incidental emotional processing. In particular, in three different experiments, we found that TMS over the (left) cerebellum impaired participants' ability to categorize facial emotional expressions (explicit task) and to classify the gender of emotional faces (incidental emotional processing task), but not the gender of neutral faces. Overall, our results indicate that the cerebellum is involved in perceiving the emotional content of facial stimuli, even when this is task irrelevant.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.12.026DOI Listing
April 2018

The effect of strategic memory training in older adults: who benefits most?

Int Psychogeriatr 2018 08 7;30(8):1235-1242. Epub 2017 Dec 7.

Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences,University of Pavia,Pavia,Italy.

ABSTRACTBackground:Previous research has suggested that there is a degree of variability among older adults' response to memory training, such that some individuals benefit more than others. The aim of the present study was to identify the profile of older adults who were likely to benefit most from a strategic memory training program that has previously proved to be effective in improving memory in healthy older adults.

Method: In total, 44 older adults (60-83 years) participated in a strategic memory training. We examined memory training benefits by measuring changes in memory practiced (word list learning) and non-practiced tasks (grocery list and associative learning). In addition, a battery of cognitive measures was administered in order to assess crystallized and fluid abilities, short-term memory, working memory, and processing speed.

Results: Results confirmed the efficacy of the training in improving performance in both practiced and non-practiced memory tasks. For the practiced memory tasks, results showed that memory baseline performance and crystallized ability predicted training gains. For the non-practiced memory tasks, analyses showed that memory baseline performance was a significant predictor of gain in the grocery list learning task. For the associative learning task, the significant predictors were memory baseline performance, processing speed, and marginally the age.

Conclusions: Our results indicate that older adults with a higher baseline memory capacity and with more efficient cognitive resources were those who tended to benefit most from the training. The present study provides new avenues in designing personalized intervention according to the older adults' cognitive profile.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1041610217002691DOI Listing
August 2018

Smart Aging Platform for Evaluating Cognitive Functions in Aging: A Comparison with the MoCA in a Normal Population.

Front Aging Neurosci 2017 21;9:379. Epub 2017 Nov 21.

Headache Science Centre, C. Mondino National Neurological Institute, Pavia, Italy.

Smart Aging is a Serious games (SGs) platform in a 3D virtual environment in which users perform a set of screening tests that address various cognitive skills. The tests are structured as 5 tasks of activities of daily life in a familiar environment. The main goal of the present study is to compare a cognitive evaluation made with Smart Aging with those of a classic standardized screening test, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA). One thousand one-hundred thirty-one healthy adults aged between 50 and 80 ( = 64.3 ± 8.3) were enrolled in the study. They received a cognitive evaluation with the MoCA and the Smart Aging platform. Participants were grouped according to their MoCA global and specific cognitive domain (i.e., memory, executive functions, working memory, visual spatial elaboration, language, and orientation) scores and we explored differences among these groups in the Smart Aging indices. One thousand eighty-six older adults ( = 64.0 ± 8.0) successfully completed the study and were stratified according to their MoCA score: Group 1 with MoCA < 27 ( = 360); Group 2 with 27 ≥ MoCA < 29 ( = 453); and Group 3 with MoCA ≥ 29 ( = 273). MoCA groups significantly differed in most of the Smart Aging indices considered, in particular as concerns accuracy (s < 0.001) and time (s < 0.001) for completing most of the platform tasks. Group 1 was outperformed by the other two Groups and was slower than them in these tasks, which were those supposed to assess memory and executive functions. In addition, significant differences across groups also emerged when considering the single cognitive domains of the MoCA and the corresponding performances in each Smart Aging task. In particular, this platform seems to be a good proxy for assessing memory, executive functions, working memory, and visual spatial processes. These findings demonstrate the validity of Smart Aging for assessing cognitive functions in normal aging. Future studies will validate this platform also in the clinical aging populations.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2017.00379DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5702318PMC
November 2017

The ego-moving metaphor of time relies on visual experience: No representation of time along the sagittal space in the blind.

J Exp Psychol Gen 2018 03 20;147(3):444-450. Epub 2017 Nov 20.

Center, C. Mondino National Neurological Institute, University of Milano-Bicocca.

In many cultures, humans conceptualize the past as behind the body and the future as in front. Whether this spatial mapping of time depends on visual experience is still not known. Here, we addressed this issue by testing early-blind participants in a space-time motor congruity task requiring them to classify a series of words as referring to the past or the future by moving their hand backward or forward. Sighted participants showed a preferential mapping between forward movements and future-words and backward movements and past-words. Critically, blind participants did not show any such preferential time-space mapping. Furthermore, in a questionnaire requiring participants to think about past and future events, blind participants did not appear to perceive the future as psychologically closer than the past, as it is the case of sighted individuals. These findings suggest that normal visual development is crucial for representing time along the sagittal space. (PsycINFO Database Record
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000373DOI Listing
March 2018

An Exploratory TMS Study on Prefrontal Lateralization in Valence Categorization of Facial Expressions.

Exp Psychol 2017 Jul;64(4):282-289

1 Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy.

Converging neuroimaging and patient data suggest that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is involved in emotional processing. However, it is still not clear whether the DLPFC in the left and right hemisphere is differentially involved in emotion recognition depending on the emotion considered. Here we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to shed light on the possible causal role of the left and right DLPFC in encoding valence of positive and negative emotional facial expressions. Participants were required to indicate whether a series of faces displayed a positive or negative expression, while TMS was delivered over the right DLPFC, the left DLPFC, and a control site (vertex). Interfering with activity in both the left and right DLPFC delayed valence categorization (compared to control stimulation) to a similar extent irrespective of emotion type. Overall, we failed to demonstrate any valence-related lateralization in the DLPFC by using TMS. Possible methodological limitations are discussed.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1027/1618-3169/a000363DOI Listing
July 2017

Self-guided strategy-adaption training for older adults: Transfer effects to everyday tasks.

Arch Gerontol Geriatr 2017 Sep 7;72:91-98. Epub 2017 Jun 7.

Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA.

Objectives: The goal of the present research was to examine the potential of a learner-oriented approach to improving older adults' performance in tasks that are similar to real-life situations that require strategic deployment of cognitive resources. A crucial element of this approach involves encouraging older adults to explicitly analyze tasks to consider how to adapt trained skills to a new task context. In an earlier study, a specialist-directed intervention produced training gains and transfer to some untrained memory tasks.

Method: In the present study, older adults received a manual instructing them about principles of task analysis, two memory strategies, and strategy adaptation. Self-guided strategy-adaption training involved practicing some memory tasks as well as instructions on how the trained skills could be applied to new tasks that were not practiced. The criterion tasks involved practice tasks, non-practiced tasks that were discussed in the manual, and transfer tasks that were never mentioned in the manual. Two of the tests were from the Everyday Cognition Battery (inductive reasoning and working memory).

Results: As compared to a waiting-list control group, older adults assigned to self-guided strategy-adaption training showed memory improvements on tasks that were practiced or discussed during training. Most important, the learner-oriented approach produced transfer to the everyday tasks.

Conclusion: Our findings show the potential of instructing task appraisal processes as a basis for fostering transfer, including improving older adults' performance in simulated everyday tasks.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.archger.2017.05.015DOI Listing
September 2017

Emotion processing in early blind and sighted individuals.

Neuropsychology 2017 Jul 13;31(5):516-524. Epub 2017 Mar 13.

Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca.

Objective: Emotion processing is known to be mediated by a complex network of cortical and subcortical regions with evidence of specialized hemispheric lateralization within the brain. In light of prior evidence indicating that lateralization of cognitive functions (such as language) may depend on normal visual development, we investigated whether the lack of prior visual experience would have an impact on the development of specialized hemispheric lateralization in emotional processing.

Method: We addressed this issue by comparing performance in early blind and sighted controls on a dichotic listening task requiring the detection of specific emotional vocalizations (i.e., suggestive of happiness or sadness) presented independently to either ear.

Results: Consistent with previous studies, we found that sighted individuals showed enhanced detection of positive vocalizations when presented in the right ear (i.e., processed within the left hemisphere) and negative vocalizations when presented in the left ear (i.e., right hemisphere). It is interesting to note that although blind individuals were as accurate as sighted controls in detecting the valance of the vocalization, performance was not consistent with any pattern of specialized hemispheric lateralization.

Conclusions: Overall, these results suggest that although the lack of prior visual experience may not lead to impaired emotion processing performance, the underlying neurophysiological substrate (i.e., degree of special hemispheric lateralization) may depend on normal visual development. (PsycINFO Database Record
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/neu0000360DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5757241PMC
July 2017

Drug prescription appropriateness in the elderly: an Italian study.

Clin Interv Aging 2017 10;12:325-333. Epub 2017 Feb 10.

Department of Drug Sciences, Section of pharmacology, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy.

Purpose: Correct drug prescription in the elderly is a difficult task that requires careful survey of the current pharmacological therapies. In this article, we reviewed the drug prescriptions provided to 860 persons aged 65 years or over, residing in a small city of Lombardy, Italy.

Methods: Subjects were recruited from a local nursing home, the Pavia and Vigevano Neuropsychological Center for Alzheimer's Disease, general practitioners' offices, and the local University of the Third Age. For each patient, the amount of potentially inappropriate prescriptions (PIPs), sedative and anticholinergic load (SL and AL, respectively), and drug-drug interactions were evaluated.

Results: Widespread polypharmacy, giving rise to 10.06% of PIPs in the whole collection of prescriptions, was observed. In particular, PIPs mainly concern drugs acting at the central nervous system level, mostly benzodiazepines and antipsychotics. Moreover, approximately one-fourth of the subjects had an elevated SL and approximately one-tenth a high AL. Drug-drug interactions were frequent (266 requiring medical attention), up to five for each single patient. Of concern was the underuse of antidementia drugs: only 20 patients received a cholinesterase inhibitor or memantine, although 183 patients were potentially suitable for this treatment.

Conclusion: These results demonstrate the need to develop novel strategies aimed at improving the quality of drug prescription.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S109125DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5312694PMC
January 2018

The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex mediates the interaction between moral and aesthetic valuation: a TMS study on the beauty-is-good stereotype.

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2017 05;12(5):707-717

Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy.

Attractive individuals are perceived as possessing more positive personal traits than unattractive individuals. This reliance on aesthetic features to infer moral character suggests a close link between aesthetic and moral valuation. Here we aimed to investigate the neural underpinnings of the interaction between aesthetic and moral valuation by combining transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) with a priming paradigm designed to assess the Beauty-is-Good stereotype. Participants evaluated the trustworthiness of a series of faces (targets), each of which was preceded by an adjective describing desirable, undesirable, or neutral aesthetic qualities (primes). TMS was applied between prime and target to interfere with activity in two regions known to be involved in aesthetic and moral valuation: the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC, a core region in social cognition) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC, critical in decision making). Our results showed that when TMS was applied over vertex (control) and over the dlPFC, participants judged faces as more trustworthy when preceded by positive than by negative aesthetic primes (as also shown in two behavioral experiments). However, when TMS was applied over the dmPFC, primes had no effect on trustworthiness judgments. A second Experiment corroborated this finding. Our results suggest that mPFC plays a causal role linking moral and aesthetic valuation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsx002DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5460046PMC
May 2017

Interfering with activity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex via TMS affects social impressions updating.

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 2016 08;16(4):626-34

Brain Connectivity Center, National Neurological Institute C. Mondino, Pavia, 27100, Italy.

In our everyday social interactions we often need to deal with others' unpredictable behaviors. Integrating unexpected information in a consistent representation of another agent is a cognitively demanding process. Several neuroimaging studies point to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) as a critical structure in mediating social evaluations. Our aim here was to shed light on the possible causal role of the mPFC in the dynamic process of forming and updating social impressions about others. We addressed this issue by suppressing activity in the mPFC by means of 1 Hz offline transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) prior to a task requiring participants to evaluate other agents' trustworthiness after reading about their social behavior. In two different experiments, we found that inhibiting activity in the mPFC increased perceived trustworthiness when inconsistent information about one agent's behavior was provided. In turn, when only negative or positive behaviors of a person were described, TMS over the mPFC did not affect judgments. Our results indicate that the mPFC is causally involved in mediating social impressions updating-at least in cases in which judgment is uncertain due to conflicting information to be processed.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3758/s13415-016-0419-2DOI Listing
August 2016

A TMS investigation on the role of the cerebellum in pitch and timbre discrimination.

Cerebellum Ataxias 2016 2;3. Epub 2016 Mar 2.

Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy ; Brain Connectivity Center, C. Mondino National Neurological Institute, Pavia, Italy.

Background: Growing neuroimaging and clinical evidence suggests that the cerebellum plays a critical role in perception. In the auditory domain, the cerebellum seems to be important in different aspects of music and sound processing. Here we investigated the possible causal role of the cerebellum in two auditory tasks, a pitch discrimination and a timbre discrimination task. Specifically, participants performed a pitch and a timbre discrimination task prior and after receiving offline low frequency transcranical magnetic stimulation (TMS) over their (right) cerebellum.

Results: Suppressing activity in the right cerebellum by means of inhibitory 1 Hz TMS affected participants' ability to discriminate pitch but not timbre.

Conclusion: These findings point to a causal role of the cerebellum in at least certain aspects of sound processing and are important in a clinical perspective helping understanding the impact of cerebellar lesions on sensory functions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s40673-016-0044-4DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4774184PMC
March 2016

Theory of Mind in aging: Comparing cognitive and affective components in the faux pas test.

Arch Gerontol Geriatr 2016 Jan-Feb;62:152-62. Epub 2015 Sep 26.

Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences, University of Pavia, Italy.

Objectives: Theory of Mind (ToM) is a complex human ability that allows people to make inferences on others' mental states such as beliefs, emotions and desires. Previous studies on ToM in normal aging have provided heterogeneous findings. In the present study we examined whether a mixed calculation of different aspects of ToM may have contributed to these conflicting results. We had two aims. First, we explored the age-related changes in the performance of cognitive vs. affective ToM. Second, we investigated the extent to which the effect of aging on cognitive vs. affective ToM is mediated by age-related differences in executive functions.

Method: To address these issues three age groups (young, young-old, and old-old adults) were compared on cognitive and affective ToM using the faux pas test. In addition, participants were tested using a battery of executive function tasks tapping on inhibition, working memory updating, and word fluency.

Results: The analyses indicated that young adults outperform both young-old and old-old adults on cognitive ToM but not on affective ToM. Correlations showed that, whereas cognitive ToM was significantly associated with age, working memory updating, and inhibition, affective ToM was not. Finally, analyses revealed that individual differences in working memory updating (but not inhibition) mediated the effect of age on cognitive ToM.

Conclusion: Our findings support the view of selective age-related differences on cognitive, but not affective, ToM in normal aging. The distinction between the two ToM components is further supported by a dissociable pattern of correlations with executive functions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.archger.2015.09.009DOI Listing
April 2016