Research Topic

Embodying Tool Use: from Cognition to Neurorehabilitation

About this Research Topic

Tool use is a ubiquitous, fundamental human characteristic that supports our ability to extend action and thought beyond simple biological boundaries. Regardless of the outcome quality and/or usability, the process of using tools consists of a mutual modification of the user, tool, and target (i.e., other organisms, objects, the environment, or the self). Radical embodiment theories may find no substantial difference between a body part and tool (hand vs. rake) or a cognitive function and technological device (learning vs. smartphone).

In this Research Topic, although we consider the contributions sustaining an extreme perspective of embodiment, we propose using a more neutral concept of the term “tool.” Whether physical or virtual, remotely located or strictly bound to/in the body, or enhancing or substituting for human capabilities, we conceptualize tools and instruments as objects that are mostly manmade and originally distinct from the body. Regardless of the chosen perspective, behavioral outcomes emerge from integrating signals (and their interactions) belonging to the person (perceptual capacity, physical characteristics, experience, etc.), the environment, and the relational context (object characteristics, affordances, their position in relation to the person, and sociocultural, temporal, and emotional factors, etc.). This information coordinates with our bodily and cognitive processes in what seems to be an experience of deep incorporation of the instrument into our behavior. Ambiguities may arise when considering phenomena involving human-shaped objects, such as in body illusions (i.e., rubber hand illusion, mirror therapy) or the physical or functional substitution of body parts by tools (i.e., prostheses, exoskeletons).

We encourage submissions concerning the illusion of self-attribution of a tool, biological part, or entire body in the challenge of disambiguating these aspects of incorporation. New experimental paradigms using classic body illusions with the latest augmented and virtual reality technologies will be equally useful for illuminating the processes that regulate tool incorporation and their different complexity levels. This Research Topic attempts to collect the most significant, up-to-date knowledge concerning tool use and embodiment (broadly speaking, with virtual reality being no exception) in its different aspects, timescales, and any unexpected effects. Furthermore, we want to focus on the relationships between technology, sensorimotor integration, and the rapidly growing evidence linking cerebral plasticity to tool use. We encourage researchers, regardless of whether they are involved in clinical activities, to share their knowledge about assistive devices by highlighting the relationships between the tool, the specific type of disability (i.e., motor, perceptual, or cognitive), patients’ feedback, and clinical outcomes. We welcome contributions on learning, expertise, and humans’ continuous adaptation to tools, without forgetting the bidirectional possibility for modern prostheses’ adaptation to individual needs. Supporting new rehabilitation perspectives is necessary for integrating rapidly evolving technology into more effective rehabilitation practices aimed at restoring a sense of integrity in a damaged body. Submissions are welcome from any discipline that is potentially related to clinical neuroscience, including (but not limited to) cognitive psychology, rehabilitation, and robotics. We further encourage clinical and cognitive researchers to submit papers discussing novel experiments, theoretical analyses, and reviews.


Keywords: Wearable robot, exoskeleton, wheelchair, assistive devices, prosthesis, embodiment, tool, apraxia, rubber hand illusion, body image, body schema, body model, self


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Tool use is a ubiquitous, fundamental human characteristic that supports our ability to extend action and thought beyond simple biological boundaries. Regardless of the outcome quality and/or usability, the process of using tools consists of a mutual modification of the user, tool, and target (i.e., other organisms, objects, the environment, or the self). Radical embodiment theories may find no substantial difference between a body part and tool (hand vs. rake) or a cognitive function and technological device (learning vs. smartphone).

In this Research Topic, although we consider the contributions sustaining an extreme perspective of embodiment, we propose using a more neutral concept of the term “tool.” Whether physical or virtual, remotely located or strictly bound to/in the body, or enhancing or substituting for human capabilities, we conceptualize tools and instruments as objects that are mostly manmade and originally distinct from the body. Regardless of the chosen perspective, behavioral outcomes emerge from integrating signals (and their interactions) belonging to the person (perceptual capacity, physical characteristics, experience, etc.), the environment, and the relational context (object characteristics, affordances, their position in relation to the person, and sociocultural, temporal, and emotional factors, etc.). This information coordinates with our bodily and cognitive processes in what seems to be an experience of deep incorporation of the instrument into our behavior. Ambiguities may arise when considering phenomena involving human-shaped objects, such as in body illusions (i.e., rubber hand illusion, mirror therapy) or the physical or functional substitution of body parts by tools (i.e., prostheses, exoskeletons).

We encourage submissions concerning the illusion of self-attribution of a tool, biological part, or entire body in the challenge of disambiguating these aspects of incorporation. New experimental paradigms using classic body illusions with the latest augmented and virtual reality technologies will be equally useful for illuminating the processes that regulate tool incorporation and their different complexity levels. This Research Topic attempts to collect the most significant, up-to-date knowledge concerning tool use and embodiment (broadly speaking, with virtual reality being no exception) in its different aspects, timescales, and any unexpected effects. Furthermore, we want to focus on the relationships between technology, sensorimotor integration, and the rapidly growing evidence linking cerebral plasticity to tool use. We encourage researchers, regardless of whether they are involved in clinical activities, to share their knowledge about assistive devices by highlighting the relationships between the tool, the specific type of disability (i.e., motor, perceptual, or cognitive), patients’ feedback, and clinical outcomes. We welcome contributions on learning, expertise, and humans’ continuous adaptation to tools, without forgetting the bidirectional possibility for modern prostheses’ adaptation to individual needs. Supporting new rehabilitation perspectives is necessary for integrating rapidly evolving technology into more effective rehabilitation practices aimed at restoring a sense of integrity in a damaged body. Submissions are welcome from any discipline that is potentially related to clinical neuroscience, including (but not limited to) cognitive psychology, rehabilitation, and robotics. We further encourage clinical and cognitive researchers to submit papers discussing novel experiments, theoretical analyses, and reviews.


Keywords: Wearable robot, exoskeleton, wheelchair, assistive devices, prosthesis, embodiment, tool, apraxia, rubber hand illusion, body image, body schema, body model, self


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 December 2018 Abstract
31 May 2019 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 December 2018 Abstract
31 May 2019 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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