My research focuses on two of the most fundamental aspects of being human:
(1) The interplay between language and thought
(2) Consciousness and cognition in coma, vegetative and minimally conscious state
(1) What is the relationship between language and thought?
Does language make us special? One of the most striking features of human cognition is the ability to generate an infinite number of ideas by combining a finite set of elements according to structure-dependent principles. This ability is most clearly displayed in language, but also characterizes other aspects of our cognition such as drawing inferences, performing mental arithmetic or music cognition. Does language enable other types of structure-dependent cognition? Does the structure of natural language provide a scaffolding on which to build other forms of high-level cognition? In my research I employ behavioral and fMRI tools in healthy volunteers and patients to address these questions.
(2) How is consciousness lost and recovered after severe brain injury?
How do we ever know that someone, other than ourselves, is conscious? Philosophical considerations aside, this issue is at the heart of one of the most challenging and least understood conditions of the human brain: the Vegetative State. This is a condition in which, after severe brain injury, patients are awake but not aware. In my research I focus on brain processing and consciousness in these patients, to try to ameliorate diagnostic procedures and to develop Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) that may allow patients to interact with their environment just by “thinking.”
See the MontiLab website
Media Coverage of my Research:
Interview on "All in the mind: the plight of Vegetative State" (click here for audio stream)
Interview on Science Weekly (click here for audio stream)
Language and Thought:
Monti M.M., Parsons L.M., Osherson D.N. (2009) The boundaries of language and thought in deductive inference, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences106:12554-12559.
Monti M.M., Parsons L.M., Martinez M.J., Osherson D.N. (2007) Functional neuroanatomy of deductive inference: A language-independent distributed network,NeuroImage 37:1005-1016.
Consciousness and the Vegetative State:
Monti, M.M., Laureys, S. & Owen, A.M. (2010). Diagnosing the vegetative state,BMJ 341(c3765):292-296.
Monti, M.M., Vanhaudenhuyse A., Coleman M.R., Boly M., Pickard J., Tshibanda, J-F., Owen, A.M., Laureys, S. (2010) Willful modulation of brain activity indisorders of consciousness, New England Journal of Medicine 362:579-589.
Monti, M.M., Coleman, M.R., Owen, A.M. (2009). fMRI and the Vegetative State: Solving the behavioral dilemma? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1157, 81-89.