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The University of Chicago Functions and Development of the Mirror Neuron System

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Neural Correlates of the Mirror Neuron System

Principal Investigator: Nathan Fox, PhD, University of Maryland, College Park

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Infant studies examine the biological and environmental factors associated with the behavioral and psychological development of babies.

The goals of Neural Correlates of the Mirror Neuron System are to identify and characterize the development of mu rhythm in the ongoing electroencephalogram (EEG) in human infants, children and adults as well as in non-human primate (Rhesus macaque) infants during the observation of action and performance of action. The Project has two specific aims. The first aim is to identify mu rhythm suppression in human infants, children and adults during periods of action-perception, describe the emergence of this link, and compare the pattern of mu rhythm suppression found in infants and young children to human adults. The second aim is to identify mu rhythm suppression in infant rhesus macaque during periods of action perception, describe the developmental course of this mu suppression over the first week of life, and link mu suppression to perception of action and motor action in these neonatal subjects.

The studies for Neural Correlates of the Mirror Neuron System take place at two sites: The Child Development Laboratory at the University of Maryland and the Laboratory of Comparative Ethology, NICHD, Poolesville, Maryland. At the Child Development Laboratory, the work is being conducted by Dr. Erin Cannon with graduate student and research assistant support. Studies examining mu rhythm suppression are underway with human infant and human adult subjects. These studies involve subjects observing a live experimenter performing an action and having the subject perform the same action as well. Brain electrical activity (EEG) is being recorded during both execution and observation of the actions using a 64 channel EGI system. Simultaneously, video recording of the subject’s behavior is being made and the video record is synchronized to the ongoing EEG data stream. Subsequent experiments will examine mu rhythm suppression while subjects perform actions in the dark, and with various motor actions designed to assess understanding of intention.

The research taking place at the Laboratory of Comparative Ethology is under the direction of Dr. Steven Suomi and Dr. Pier Ferrari along with graduate student and research assistant support. The studies are examining mu rhythm suppression in newborn to one week old Rhesus monkeys using scalp recorded EEG. Monkeys observe a human experimenter performing a set of facial gestures (lip smacking, tongue protrusion) and are observed during a still face condition to identify imitative behavior. EEG is analyzed during the observation and execution of facial motor actions. These studies are being performed with infant monkeys who are peer raised and infant monkeys who are raised with their mothers. In addition, studies of infant monkey grasping and observation of grasping are ongoing to examine mu suppression during both observation and action in the infant Rhesus.

If interested in participating in the research being done for this project, please visit the website for the Child Development Lab, Department of Human Development, University of Maryland, College Park.