THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE MIRROR NEURON SYSTEM

Behavioral and neuroimaging evidence converge to suggest the existence of a system, namely the Mirror Neuron System (MNS), which is responsible for understanding the meaning of others’ actions and intentions, without any explicit cognitive mediation (Rizzolatti & Craighero, 2004). 

How and when this system has origin during the development is still subject matter for discussion. Some studies suggest the existence of an innate mechanism (Meltzoff & Moore, 1983) directly connecting visual inputs to one’s own proprioceptual and motor schemes (Lepage & Theoret, 2007). Other studies speak in favour of a predominant role of associative learning mechanisms based on the sensorimotor experience that each person gains while growing up (Heyes, 2010).

In this project, funded by a European Research Council Starting Grant assigned to Prof. Chiara Turati, we explore the origins and development of mirror mechanisms in infancy with the use of behavioral as well as neurophysiological techniques.

 

Selected publications:

Kaiser, J., Crespo-Llado, M. M., Turati, C., & Geangu, E. (2017). The development of spontaneous facial responses to others’ emotions in infancy: An EMG study. Scientific reports, 7(1), 17500.

Natale E., Senna I., Bolognini N., Quadrelli E., Addabbo M., Macchi Cassia V., Turati C. (2014). Predicting others’ intention involves motor resonance: EMG evidence from 6- and 9-month-old infants. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 7, 23–29

Turati C., Natale E., Bolognini N., Senna I., Picozzi M., Longhi E., Macchi Cassia V. (2013). The early development of human mirror mechanisms: Evidence from electromyographic recordings at 3 and 6 months. Developmental Science, 16, 793-800.

FACES PERCEPTION AND RECOGNITION

In this lab, we have dedicated years of study to understand the early development of face perception and recognition. Currently, there are two main research lines:

1) In the first one, we investigate the ability of infants and children to discriminate faces of different ages. The rational behind is that infants in their first year of tune their discrimination abilities to faces they are most exposed to, that is, experience shapes the functional specialization of the brain. In this project, we investigate how experience can stimulate the plasticity of the brain by observing the effects of brotherhood in broadening face discrimination abilities.

2) In the second line of research, we investigate the relationship between face identity and face expressions in the first months of life. Our preliminary findings show that, for example, happiness exerts a facilitation effect on face recognition in early infancy, while the same emotion does not contribute to face identity later in the preschool years.

 

Selected publications:

Kobayashi, M., Macchi Cassia, V., Kanazawa, S., Yamaguchi, M. K., & Kakigi, R. (2018). Perceptual narrowing towards adult faces is a cross-cultural phenomenon in infancy: a behavioral and near-infrared spectroscopy study with Japanese infants. Developmental Science, 21(1), e12498. DOI: 10.1111/desc.12498.

Macchi Cassia, V., Bulf, H., Quadrelli, E., & Proietti, V. (2014). Age-related face processing bias in infancy: Evidence of perceptual narrowing for adult faces. Developmental Psychobiology, 56, 238-248.

 

Macchi Cassia, V., Luo, L., Pisacane, A., Li, H., Lee, K. (2014). How race and age experiences shape young children’s face processing abilities. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 120, 87-101.

NUMBER COGNITION IN INFANCY

An important issue in human cognition concerns the origins and nature of the capacity to represent number. Is there an innate, core system of knowledge that underlies the number abilities seen in children, and how does this system emerge in infants? In this project we investigate if babies as early as 4 months of age are able to process numerical and ordinal information by presenting them stimuli that differ in magnitude and numerosity and by tracking their eye movements.

 

 

Selected publications:

Bulf, H., de Hevia, M. D., Gariboldi, V., & Cassia, V. M. (2017). Infants learn better from left to right: a directional bias in infants’ sequence learning. Scientific Reports, 7.

 

Bulf, H., de Hevia, M.D., & Macchi Cassia, V. (2015). Small on the left, large on the right: Numbers orient visual attention onto space in preverbal infants. Developmental Science. 

Macchi Cassia, V., Bulf, H., McCrink, K., & de Hevia, M. D. (2017). Operational Momentum During Ordering Operations for Size and Number in 4-Month-Old Infants. Journal of Numerical Cognition, 3(2), 270-287.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF BODY REPRESENTATION

The perception of our body is multisensory in nature, and to understand if one body part belongs to us, we make use of vision, touch, proprioception and even hearing. In this project we investigate how the multisensory representation of the body develops and changes throughout typical and atypical development, for example in case of sensory loss (i.e., blindness) or in case of neurodegenerative diseases.

Selected publications:

Nava, E., Bolognini, N., & Turati, C. (2017). The Development of a Cross-Modal Sense of Body Ownership. Psychological Science, 28(3), 330-337.

Nava, E., Mattioli, F., Gamberini, C., Stampatori, C., Bellomi, F., Turati, C., ... & Bolognini, N. (2017). Altered bodily self‐consciousness in multiple sclerosis. Journal of Neuropsychology.

Nava, E., Steiger, T., & Röder, B. (2014). Both developmental and adult vision shape body representations. Scientific reports, 4.