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Infants' mu suppression during the observation of real and mimicked goal-directed actions
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
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2013 (English)In: Developmental Science, ISSN 1363-755X, E-ISSN 1467-7687, Vol. 16, no 2, 173-185 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Since their discovery in the early 1990s, mirror neurons have been proposed to be related to many social-communicative abilities, such as imitation. However, research into the early manifestations of the putative neural mirroring system and its role in early social development is still inconclusive. In the current EEG study, mu suppression, generally thought to reflect activity in neural mirroring systems was investigated in 18- to 30-month-olds during the observation of object manipulations as well as mimicked actions. EEG power data recorded from frontal, central, and parietal electrodes were analysed. As predicted, based on previous research, mu wave suppression was found over central electrodes during action observation and execution. In addition, a similar suppression was found during the observation of intransitive, mimicked hand movements. To a lesser extent, the results also showed mu suppression at parietal electrode sites, over all three conditions. Mu wave suppression during the observation of hand movements and during the execution of actions was significantly correlated with quality of imitation, but not with age or language level.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2013. Vol. 16, no 2, 173-185 p.
National Category
Social Sciences Medical and Health Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-197637DOI: 10.1111/desc.12014ISI: 000315384700003OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-197637DiVA: diva2:613996
Available from: 2013-04-03 Created: 2013-04-02 Last updated: 2016-04-29Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. World of faces, words and actions: Observations and neural linkages in early life
Open this publication in new window or tab >>World of faces, words and actions: Observations and neural linkages in early life
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

From the start of their lives, infants and young children are surrounded by a tremendous amount of multimodal social information. One intriguing question in the study of early social cognition is how vital social information is detected and processed and how and when young infants begin to make sense of what they see and hear and learn to understand other people’s behavior.

The overall aim of this thesis was to provide new insights to this exciting field. Investigating behavior and/or neural mechanisms in early life, the three different studies included in this thesis therefore strive to increase our understanding on perception and processing of social information.

Study I used eye-tracking to examine infants´ observations of gaze in a third-party context. The results showed that 9-, 16- and 24-month-old infants differentiate between the body orientations of two individuals on the basis of static visual information. More particularly, they shift their gaze more often between them when the social partners face each other than when they are turned away from each other. Using ERP technique, Study II demonstrated that infants at the age of 4 to 5 months show signs of integrating visual and auditory information at a neural level. Further, direct gaze in combination with backwards-spoken words leads to earlier or enhanced neural processing in comparison to other gaze-word combinations. Study III, also an EEG investigation, found that children between 18 and 30 months of age show a desynchronization of the mu rhythm during both the observation and execution of object-directed actions. Also, the results suggest motor system activation when young children observe others’ mimed actions. To summarize, the findings reported in this thesis strengthen the idea that infants are sensitive to others´ gaze and that this may extend to third-party contexts. Also, gaze is processed together with other information, for instance words, even before infants are able to understand others’ vocabulary. Furthermore, the motor system in young children is active during both the observation and imitation of another person’s goal-directed actions. This is in line with findings in infants, children and adults, indicating that these processes are linked at neural level.


Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2016. 85 p.
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Social Sciences, ISSN 1652-9030 ; 126
Infant development, Eye-tracking, EEG, third-party interactions, crossmodal integration, gaze processing, speech processing, mu desynchronization, action perception, imitation
National Category
Research subject
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-281242 (URN)978-91-554-9535-0 (ISBN)
Public defence
2016-05-18, Auditorium Minus, Museum Gustavianum, Akademigatan 3, Uppsala, 10:15 (English)
Available from: 2016-04-27 Created: 2016-03-21 Last updated: 2016-04-29

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