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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

February 2005, Vol. 17, No. 2, Pages 262-272.
(doi: 10.1162/0898929053124974)
© 2005 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
A Dissociation between the Representation of Tool-use Skills and Hand Dominance: Insights from Left- and Right-handed Callosotomy Patients
Article PDF (488.79 KB)

The overwhelming majority of evidence indicates that the left cerebral hemisphere of right-handed humans is dominant both for manual control and the representation of acquired skills, including tool use. It is, however, unclear whether these functions involve common or dissociable mechanisms. Here we demonstrate that the disconnected left hemispheres of both right- and left-handed split-brain patients are specialized for representing acquired tool-use skills. When required to pantomime actions associated with familiar tools (Experiment 2), both patients show a right-hand (left hemisphere) advantage in response to tool names, pictures, and actual objects. Accuracy decreases as stimuli become increasingly symbolic when using the left hand (right hemisphere). Tested in isolation with lateralized pictures (Experiment 3), each patient's left hemisphere demonstrates a significant advantage over the right hemisphere for pantomiming tool-use actions with the contralateral hand. The fact that this asymmetry occurs even in a left-handed patient suggests that the left hemisphere specialization for representing praxis skills can be dissociated from mechanisms involved in hand dominance located in the right hemisphere. This effect is not attributable to differences at the conceptual level, as the left and right hemispheres are equally and highly competent at associating tools with observed pantomimes (Experiment 4).