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Action observation in the infant brain: The role of body form and motion

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Grossmann,  Tobias
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Cross,  Emily S.
Department Psychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University, the Netherlands;
School of Psychology, Wales Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience, Bangor University, United Kingdom;

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Ticini,  Luca Francesco
Max Planck Research Group Body and Self, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Daum,  Moritz M.
Research Group Infant Cognition and Action, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Grossmann, T., Cross, E. S., Ticini, L. F., & Daum, M. M. (2013). Action observation in the infant brain: The role of body form and motion. Social Neuroscience, 8(1), 22-30. doi:10.1080/17470919.2012.696077.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0012-16BD-C
Abstract
Much research has been carried out to understand how our brains make sense of another agent in motion. Current views based on human adult and monkey studies assume a matching process in the motor system biased towards actions performed by conspecifics and present in the observer’s motor repertoire. However, little is known about the neural correlates of action cognition in early ontogeny. In this study, we examined the processes involved in the observation of full body movements in 4-month-old infants using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure localized brain activation. In a 2 x 2 design, infants watched human or robotic figures moving in a smooth, familiar human-like manner, or in a rigid, unfamiliar robotic-like manner. We found that infant premotor cortex responded more strongly to observing robotic-like motion compared to human-like motion. Contrary to current views, this suggests that the infant motor system is flexibly engaged by novel movement patterns. Moreover, temporal cortex responses indicate that infants integrate information about form and motion during action observation. The response patterns obtained in premotor and temporal cortices during action observation in these young infants are very similar to those reported for adults (Cross et al., in press). These findings thus suggest that the brain processes involved in the analysis of an agent in motion in adults become functionally specialized very early in human development.