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New Research Uncovers Connection Between Language Skills and Motor Skills


A new study published in the journal Science reveals a connection between the language skills needed to understand the syntax of complex sentences and the motor skills needed to use mechanical tools. Findings of the study, conducted by researchers from Inserm, Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, and Université Lumière Lyon 2, in collaboration with Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, indicate that both skills use neurological resources in the same region of the brain.

What’s more, improving skills in one of the areas will strengthen skills in the other. Researchers developed a series of experiments using brain imaging techniques and behavioral measurements. Participants completed tasks of motor training and syntax exercises in French. Results indicated that participants who had 30 minutes of motor training with pliers had improved performance in syntactic comprehension exercises. The reverse was proven to be true as well: syntax training led to improved motor performance.

What kinds of tasks were research participants given in this study?

Motor training: using pliers to insert small pegs into holes of the same shape with differing orientations

Syntax exercises: reading a sentence with simple syntax or more complex syntax and then answering true or false questions to gage understanding

Brain images that captured activity in the same area of the brain – the basla ganglia region – for both motor training and syntax exercises were supported by standards for functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). American National Standards Institute (ANSI) members have developed many standards to further MRI technology, including:

  • ANSI/AAMI PC76, Active Implantable Medical Devices – Requirements and Test Protocols for Safety of Patients with Pacemakers and ICs Exposed to Magnetic Resonance Imaging, developed by AAMI
  • ASTM F2503, Standard Practice for Marking Medical Devices and Other Items for Safety in the Magnetic Resonance Environment, developed by ASTM International
  • NEMA MS-2, Determination of Two-Dimensional Geometric Distortion in Diagnostic Magnetic Resonance Images, developed by NEMA

Tools like those used in the experiment – 30-cm long pliers – are supported by standards as well. ASME B107.500, Pliers and Shears, was developed by ANSI member and accredited standards developer ASME to provide performance and safety requirements for pliers, including long nose, long reach pliers, pliers suitable for inserting and removing internal and external retaining rings, pliers having gripping surfaces and/or cutting edges, adjustable joint and slip joint pliers, and pliers that are used primarily for connecting or disconnecting threaded lock collars of electrical connectors.

How can these findings be applied in a clinical setting? Scientists are now devising protocols where language rehabilitation and recovery programs include motor skills activities to bolster progress. These may also be applied to children with developmental language disorders. Young children likely wouldn’t be given standard pliers to manipulate, but many toys provide similar motor challenges that can support this initiative in a safer manner. Toy safety is guided by many standards such as those in the Toy Safety Certification Standard Package, a collection that includes all the necessary standards identified by the Toy Association, an ANSI member and accredited standards developer, to conform to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) regarding the safety of toys in the United States.

Learn more about the link between language skills and mechanical tools in the Science Daily article.