Functions and Development of the Mirror Neuron System
This Research Program Project Grant is funded by the National Institutes of Health to support integrated, multi-project research involving the University of Chicago, the University of Maryland, College Park, the University of Parma, Italy, and the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development.
This large-scale collaboration forms a system of research activities and projects directed toward a well-defined research program goal: to provide critical new insights into the development of foundational human capacities, as well as innovative new tools, approaches and insights for broader developmental, comparative, and clinical research of goal-directed action and social-cognitive functioning.
Two fundamental abilities are central to adaptive human functioning and human development: the ability to deploy actions strategically in service of goals and the ability to apprehend the goals of social partners in order to produce appropriate social responses. Recent neuroscientific findings indicate these foundational capacities are intimately related: A neural network known as the mirror neuron system (MNS) responds both when we perform an action and when we observe someone else perform that action. These findings hold the potential to revolutionize scientific understanding of the ontogeny of goal-directed action and social-cognitive functioning. However, progress in realizing this potential has been held back by the lack of neural measures of MNS activity in infants, a lack of integrated measures of social-cognitive functions in infants, and the need to develop models of MNS dynamics during development. The Program Project addresses these needs.
This research will provide insights relevant to developmental disorders such as autism, which involves disruptions in the MNS, imitation, and social information processing. The products of the research will provide theoretical and computational insights relevant for understanding the interrelated deficits that characterize autism, and innovative tools for studying this clinical population.