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Short-term motor training, but not observational training, alters neurocognitive mechanisms of action processing in infancy

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Sarah Gerson, Harold Bekkering, Sabine Hunnius

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The role of motor experience in the processing of perceived actions is hotly debated on both behavioral (e.g., action understanding) and neural (e.g., activation of the motor system) levels of interpretation. Whereas some researchers focus on the role of motor experience in the understanding of and motor activity associated with perceived actions, others emphasize the role of visual experience with the perceived actions. The question of whether prior firsthand motor experience is critical to motor system activation during perception of actions performed by others is best addressed through studies with infants who have a limited repertoire of motor actions. In this way, infants can receive motor or visual training with novel actions that are not mere recombinations of previously acquired actions. In this study, 10-month-old infants received active training with a motorically unfamiliar action that resulted in a distinct sound effect. They received observational experience with a second, similarly unfamiliar action. Following training, we assessed infants' neural motor activity via EEG while they listened to the sounds associated with the actions relative to a novel sound. We found a greater decrease in mu power to sounds associated with the motorically learned action than to those associated with the observed action that the infants had never produced. This effect was directly related to individual differences in the degree of motor learning via motor training. These findings indicate a unique effect of active experience on neural correlates of action perception.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1207-1214
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number6
Early online date16 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015

    Research areas

  • EEG, Learning, Motor control, Social cognition

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