Evidence demonstrating the presence of mirror neurons in the adult human brain has led many researchers to suggest a fundamental role for the mirror neuron system (MNS) in human mentalizing behavior and social cognition. Recent findings have also suggested strong relationships between MNS impairments and neurodevelopmental disorders in which mentalizing behavior is impaired. In light of this evidence, it has become of paramount importance to understand whether or not the MNS is present at birth and how its functional properties develop throughout infancy. The current project will address these questions within the context of a neuroconstructivist framework, according to which a basic perception-action coupling mechanism would be present from birth, and undergoes a series of refinements through experience and visuomotor learning. Using behavioral, electromyographic and electrophysiological measures, the project aims to investigate action understanding and emotion recognition in newborns and infants. Behavioral looking time and eye-movement paradigms will be used to test infants ability to visually anticipate the action s goal. Electromyographic paradigms will allow for testing of when and how the activation of infants muscles is affected by the goal of the observed action or the emotion expressed by the observed face. Electrophysiological paradigms will be used to investigate modulations of infants EEG activity during the execution and observation of grasping actions.
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