Reduced Mu Power in Response to Unusual Actions Is Context-Dependent in 1-Year-Olds

Miriam Langeloh, David Buttelmann, Daniel Matthes, Susanne Grassmann, Sabina Pauen, Stefanie Hoehl

During social interactions infants predict and evaluate other people's actions. Previous behavioral research found that infants' imitation of others' actions depends on these evaluations and is context-dependent: 1-year-olds predominantly imitated an unusual action (turning on a lamp with one's forehead) when the model's hands were free compared to when the model's hands were occupied or restrained. In the present study, we adapted this behavioral paradigm to a neurophysiological study measuring infants' brain activity while observing usual and unusual actions via electroencephalography. In particular, we measured differences in mu power (6-8 Hz) associated with motor activation. In a between-subjects design, 12-to 14-month-old infants watched videos of adult models demonstrating that their hands were either free or restrained. Subsequent test frames showed the models turning on a lamp or a soundbox by using their head or their hand. Results in the hands-free condition revealed that 12-to 14-month-olds displayed a reduction of mu power in frontal regions in response to unusual and thus unexpected actions (head touch) compared to usual and expected actions (hand touch). This may be explained by increased motor activation required for updating prior action predictions in response to unusual actions though alternative explanations in terms of general attention or cognitive control processes may also be considered. In the hands-restrained condition, responses in mu frequency band did not differ between action outcomes. This implies that unusual head-touch actions compared to hand-touch actions do not necessarily evoke a reduction of mu power. Thus, we conclude that reduction of mu frequency power is context-dependent during infants' action perception. Our results are interpreted in terms of motor system activity measured via changes in mu frequency band as being one important neural mechanism involved in action prediction and evaluation from early on.

Department of Clinical and Health Psychology
External organisation(s)
Max-Planck-Institut für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften, Scientific Software Center, Universität Bern, Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz
Frontiers in Psychology
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Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
501005 Developmental psychology
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