Humans have an automatic tendency to imitate others. Previous studies on how we control these tendencies have focused on reactive mechanisms, where inhibition of imitation is implemented after seeing an action. This work suggests that reactive control of imitation draws on at least partially specialized mechanisms. Here, we examine preparatory imitation control, where advance information allows control processes to be employed before an action is observed. Drawing on dual route models from the spatial compatibility literature, we compare control processes using biological and non-biological stimuli to determine whether preparatory imitation control recruits specialized neural systems that are similar to those observed in reactive imitation control. Results indicate that preparatory control involves anterior prefrontal, dorsolateral prefrontal, posterior parietal and early visual cortices regardless of whether automatic responses are evoked by biological (imitative) or non-biological stimuli. These results indicate both that preparatory control of imitation uses general mechanisms, and that preparatory control of imitation draws on different neural systems from reactive imitation control. Based on the regions involved, we hypothesize that preparatory control is implemented through top-down attentional biasing of visual processing.
imitation; executive control; fMRI; stimulus–response compatibility; dual route models
Stimulus-response compatibility (SRC)—the fact that some stimulus-response pairs are faster than others—is attributed in part to automatic activation of the stimulus-compatible response representation. Cognitive models of SRC propose that automatic response activation can be strategically suppressed if the automatic response is likely to interfere with behavior; in particular, suppression is thought to occur in preparation for incompatible responses and when the required stimulus-response mapping is unknown before stimulus presentation. We test this preparatory suppression hypothesis in the context of imitation, a special form of SRC particularly relevant to human social behavior. Using TMS, we measured muscle-specific corticospinal excitability during action observation (motor resonance) while human participants prepared to perform imitative and counterimitative responses to action videos. Motor resonance was suppressed during preparation to counterimitate and for unknown mappings, compared to preparation to imitate and a baseline measure of motor resonance. These results provide novel neurophysiological evidence that automatic activation of stimulus-compatible responses can be strategically suppressed when it is likely to interfere with task goals. Insofar as motor resonance measures mirror neuron system activity, these results also suggest that preparatory control of automatic imitative tendencies occurs through modulation of mirror neuron system activity.
stimulus response compatibility; imitation; motor resonance; transcranial magnetic stimulation; motor preparation
Humans have an automatic tendency to imitate others. Although several regions commonly observed in social tasks have been shown to be involved in imitation control, there is little work exploring how these regions interact with one another. We used fMRI and dynamic causal modeling to identify imitation-specific control mechanisms and examine functional interactions between regions. Participants performed a pre-specified action (lifting their index or middle finger) in response to videos depicting the same two actions (biological cues) or dots moving with similar trajectories (non-biological cues). On congruent trials, the stimulus and response were similar (e.g. index finger response to index finger or left side dot stimulus), while on incongruent trials the stimulus and response were dissimilar (e.g. index finger response to middle finger or right side dot stimulus). Reaction times were slower on incongruent compared to congruent trials for both biological and non-biological stimuli, replicating previous findings that suggest the automatic imitative or spatially compatible (congruent) response must be controlled on incongruent trials. Neural correlates of the congruency effects were different depending on the cue type. The medial prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, inferior frontal gyrus pars opercularis (IFGpo) and the left anterior insula were involved specifically in controlling imitation. In addition, the IFGpo was also more active for biological compared to non-biological stimuli, suggesting the region represents the frontal node of the human mirror neuron system (MNS). Effective connectivity analysis exploring the interactions between these regions, suggests a role for the mPFC and ACC in imitative conflict detection and the anterior insula in conflict resolution processes, which may occur through interactions with the frontal node of the MNS. We suggest an extension of the previous models of imitation control involving interactions between imitation-specific and general cognitive control mechanisms.
Automatic imitation; spatial compatibility; cognitive control; mirror neurons; fMRI; dynamic causal modeling
Although social cognitive impairments are key determinants of functional outcome in schizophrenia their neural bases are poorly understood. This study investigated neural activity during imitation and observation of finger movements and facial expressions in schizophrenia, and their correlates with self-reported empathy.
23 schizophrenia outpatients and 23 healthy controls were studied with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they imitated, executed, or simply observed finger movements and facial emotional expressions. Between-group activation differences, as well as relationships between activation and self-reported empathy, were evaluated.
Both patients and controls similarly activated neural systems previously associated with these tasks. We found no significant between-group differences in task-related activations. There were, however, between-group differences in the correlation between self-reported empathy and right inferior frontal (pars opercularis) activity during observation of facial emotional expressions. As in previous studies, controls demonstrated a positive association between brain activity and empathy scores. In contrast, the pattern in the patient group reflected a negative association between brain activity and empathy.
Although patients with schizophrenia demonstrated largely normal patterns of neural activation across the finger movement and facial expression tasks, they reported decreased self perceived empathy and failed to show the typical relationship between neural activity and self-reported empathy seen in controls. These findings suggest that patients show a disjunction between automatic neural responses to low level social cues and higher level, integrative social cognitive processes involved in self-perceived empathy.
•Comparable activation patterns were present in both groups for finger and facial stimuli.•There were no group differences on any of the activation tasks.•Self-reported empathy differentially related to neural activation in the two groups.•Empathy related to right inferior frontal activity in controls but not in patients.•Patients showed a disconnect between low- and high-level social cognitive processes.
Imitation; Observation; Simulation; Schizophrenia; Mirror neuron system; Empathy
Imitation plays a central role in the acquisition of culture. People preferentially imitate others who are self-similar, prestigious or successful. Because race can indicate a person's self-similarity or status, race influences whom people imitate. Prior studies of the neural underpinnings of imitation have not considered the effects of race. Here we measured neural activity with fMRI while European American participants imitated meaningless gestures performed by actors of their own race, and two racial outgroups, African American, and Chinese American. Participants also passively observed the actions of these actors and their portraits. Frontal, parietal and occipital areas were differentially activated while participants imitated actors of different races. More activity was present when imitating African Americans than the other racial groups, perhaps reflecting participants' reported lack of experience with and negative attitudes towards this group, or the group's lower perceived social status. This pattern of neural activity was not found when participants passively observed the gestures of the actors or simply looked at their faces. Instead, during face-viewing neural responses were overall greater for own-race individuals, consistent with prior race perception studies not involving imitation. Our findings represent a first step in elucidating neural mechanisms involved in cultural learning, a process that influences almost every aspect of our lives but has thus far received little neuroscientific study.
Race; Imitation; Mirror neuron system; Neuroimaging; Cultural learning
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we show that a distributed fronto-parietal visuomotor integration network is recruited to overcome automatic responses to both biological and non-biological cues. Activity levels in these areas are similar for both cue types. The functional connectivity of this network, however, reveals differential coupling with thalamus and precuneus (biological cues) and extrastriate cortex (non biological cues). This suggests that a set of cortical areas equally activated in two tasks may accomplish task goals differently depending on their network interactions. This supports models of brain organization that emphasize efficient coding through changing patterns of integration between regions of specialized function.
Imitative Behavior; Functional MRI; Space Perception; Intention; Executive Function
Adolescence is often described as a period of heightened reactivity to emotions paired with reduced regulatory capacities, a combination suggested to contribute to risk-taking and susceptibility to peer influence during puberty. However, no longitudinal research has definitively linked these behavioral changes to underlying neural development. Here, 38 neurotypical participants underwent two fMRI sessions across the transition from late childhood (10 years) to early adolescence (13 years). Responses to affective facial displays exhibited a combination of general and emotion-specific changes in ventral striatum (VS), ventromedial PFC, amygdala, and temporal pole. Furthermore, VS activity increases correlated with decreases in susceptibility to peer influence and risky behavior. VS and amygdala responses were also significantly more negatively coupled in early adolescence than in late childhood while processing sad and happy versus neutral faces. Together, these results suggest that VS responses to viewing emotions may play a regulatory role that is critical to adolescent interpersonal functioning.
The mirror neuron system (MNS) has been proposed to play an important role in social cognition by providing a neural mechanism by which others’ actions, intentions, and emotions can be understood. Here functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to directly examine the relationship between MNS activity and two distinct indicators of social functioning in typically-developing children (aged 10.1 years±7 months): empathy and interpersonal competence. Reliable activity in pars opercularis, the frontal component of the MNS, was elicited by observation and imitation of emotional expressions. Importantly, activity in this region (as well as in the anterior insula and amygdala) was significantly and positively correlated with established behavioral measures indexing children’s empathic behavior (during both imitation and observation) and interpersonal skills (during imitation only). These findings suggest that simulation mechanisms and the MNS may indeed be relevant to social functioning in everyday life during typical human development.
To examine mirror neuron abnormalities in autism, high-functioning children with autism and matched controls underwent fMRI while imitating and observing emotional expressions. Although both groups performed the tasks equally well, children with autism showed no mirror neuron activity in the inferior frontal gyrus (pars opercularis). Notably, activity in this area was inversely related to symptom severity in the social domain, suggesting that a dysfunctional ‘mirror neuron system’ may underlie the social deficits observed in autism.
A growing body of evidence suggests that autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are related to altered communication between brain regions. Here, we present findings showing that ASD is characterized by a pattern of reduced functional integration as well as reduced segregation of large-scale brain networks. Twenty-three children with ASD and 25 typically developing matched controls underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while passively viewing emotional face expressions. We examined whole-brain functional connectivity of two brain structures previously implicated in emotional face processing in autism: the amygdala bilaterally and the right pars opercularis of the inferior frontal gyrus (rIFGpo). In the ASD group, we observed reduced functional integration (i.e., less long-range connectivity) between amygdala and secondary visual areas, as well as reduced segregation between amygdala and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. For the rIFGpo seed, we observed reduced functional integration with parietal cortex and increased integration with right frontal cortex as well as right nucleus accumbens. Finally, we observed reduced segregation between rIFGpo and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. We propose that a systems-level approach—whereby the integration and segregation of large-scale brain networks in ASD is examined in relation to typical development—may provide a more detailed characterization of the neural basis of ASD.
amygdala; connectivity; default mode network; face processing; mirror neuron system
The ability to process facial expressions can be modified by altering the spatial frequency of the stimuli, an effect that has been attributed to differential properties of visual pathways that convey different types of information to distinct brain regions at different speeds. While this effect suggests a potential influence of spatial frequency on the processing speed of facial emotion, this hypothesis has not been examined directly. We addressed this question using a facial emotion identification task with photographs containing either high spatial frequency (HSF), low spatial frequency (LSF), or broadband spatial frequency (BSF). Temporal processing of emotion perception was manipulated by suppressing visual perception with a single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), delivered to the visual cortex at six intervals prior to (forward masking) or following (backward masking) stimulus presentation. Participants performed best in the BSF, followed by LSF, and finally HSF condition. A spatial frequency by forward/backward masking interaction effect demonstrated reduced performance in the forward masking component in the BSF condition and a reversed performance pattern in the HSF condition, with no significant differences between forward and backward masking in the LSF condition. Results indicate that LSF information may play a greater role than HSF information in emotional processing, but may not be sufficient for fast conscious perception of emotion. As both LSF and HSF filtering reduced the speed of extracting emotional information from faces, it is possible that intact BSF faces have an inherent perceptual advantage and hence benefit from faster temporal processing.
Affect perception; facial emotion; transcranial magnetic stimulation; visual masking
Adolescence is marked by profound psychosocial and physiological changes. Although investigations into the interactions between these forces have begun to shed light on the neural correlates of affective processing during the transition to adolescence, relatively little is known about the relationship between pubertal development and emotion perception at the neural level. In the current longitudinal study, 45 neurotypical participants were shown affective facial displays while undergoing fMRI, at ages 10 and 13. Neural responses to emotional expressions at both time points were then correlated with a self-report measure of pubertal development, revealing positive associations with activity in amygdala, thalamus and visual cortical areas at age 10 that increased in magnitude and extent by age 13. At the latter time point, pubertal development was additionally correlated with enhanced responses to faces in temporal pole, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) and dorsomedial PFC. Longitudinal comparisons revealed that the relationships between pubertal development and activity in the amygdala, hippocampus and temporal pole were significantly stronger during early adolescence than late childhood. These results suggest that pubertal development per se is linked to neural processing of socioemotional stimuli, particularly with respect to the integration of complex perceptual input and higher order cortical processing of affective content.
adolescence; puberty; emotion; fMRI; amygdala; longitudinal
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by significant social impairments, including deficits in orienting attention following social cues. Behavioral studies investigating social orienting in ASD, however, have yielded mixed results, as the use of naturalistic paradigms typically reveals clear deficits whereas computerized laboratory experiments often report normative behavior. The present study is the first to examine the neural mechanisms underlying social orienting in ASD in order to provide new insight into the social attention impairments that characterize this disorder. Using fMRI, we examined the neural correlates of social orienting in children and adolescents with ASD and in a matched sample of typically developing (TD) controls while they performed a spatial cueing paradigm with social (eye gaze) and nonsocial (arrow) cues. Cues were either directional (indicating left or right) or neutral (indicating no direction), and directional cues were uninformative of the upcoming target location in order to engage automatic processes by minimizing expectations. Behavioral results demonstrated intact orienting effects for social and nonsocial cues, with no differences between groups. The imaging results, however, revealed clear group differences in brain activity. When attention was directed by social cues compared to nonsocial cues, the TD group showed increased activity in frontoparietal attention networks, visual processing regions, and the striatum, whereas the ASD group only showed increased activity in the superior parietal lobule. Significant group × cue type interactions confirmed greater responsivity in task-relevant networks for social cues than nonsocial cues in TD as compared to ASD, despite similar behavioral performance. These results indicate that, in the autistic brain, social cues are not assigned the same privileged status as they are in the typically developing brain. These findings provide the first empirical evidence that the neural circuitry involved in social orienting is disrupted in ASD and highlight that normative behavioral performance in a laboratory setting may reflect compensatory mechanisms rather than intact social attention.
autism; attention; functional magnetic resonance imaging; gaze; social cue
The investigation of cultural phenomena using neuroscientific methods—cultural neuroscience (CN)—is receiving increasing attention. Yet it is unclear whether the integration of cultural study and neuroscience is merely additive, providing additional evidence of neural plasticity in the human brain, or truly synergistic, yielding discoveries that neither discipline could have achieved alone. We discuss how the parent fields to CN: cross-cultural psychology, psychological anthropology and cognitive neuroscience inform the investigation of the role of cultural experience in shaping the brain. Drawing on well-established methodologies from cross-cultural psychology and cognitive neuroscience, we outline a set of guidelines for CN, evaluate 17 CN studies in terms of these guidelines, and provide a summary table of our results. We conclude that the combination of culture and neuroscience is both additive and synergistic; while some CN methodologies and findings will represent the direct union of information from parent fields, CN studies employing the methodological rigor required by this logistically challenging new field have the potential to transform existing methodologies and produce unique findings.
cross-cultural; cross disciplinary; cultural-neuroscience; culture; neuroscience; neuroimaging
In the course of developing an atlas and reference system for the normal human brain throughout the human age span from structural and functional brain imaging data, the International Consortium for Brain Mapping (ICBM) developed a set of “normal” criteria for subject inclusion and the associated exclusion criteria. The approach was to minimize inclusion of subjects with any medical disorders that could affect brain structure or function. In the past two years, a group of 1,685 potential subjects responded to solicitation advertisements at one of the consortium sites (UCLA). Subjects were screened by a detailed telephone interview and then had an in-person history and physical examination. Of those who responded to the advertisement and considered themselves to be normal, only 31.6% (532 subjects) passed the telephone screening process. Of the 348 individuals who submitted to in-person history and physical examinations, only 51.7% passed these screening procedures. Thus, only 10.7% of those individuals who responded to the original advertisement qualified for imaging. The most frequent cause for exclusion in the second phase of subject screening was high blood pressure followed by abnormal signs on neurological examination. It is concluded that the majority of individuals who consider themselves normal by self-report are found not to be so by detailed historical interviews about underlying medical conditions and by thorough medical and neurological examinations. Recommendations are made with regard to the inclusion of subjects in brain imaging studies and the criteria used to select them.
While religious faith remains one of the most significant features of human life, little is known about its relationship to ordinary belief at the level of the brain. Nor is it known whether religious believers and nonbelievers differ in how they evaluate statements of fact. Our lab previously has used functional neuroimaging to study belief as a general mode of cognition , and others have looked specifically at religious belief . However, no research has compared these two states of mind directly.
We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure signal changes in the brains of thirty subjects—fifteen committed Christians and fifteen nonbelievers—as they evaluated the truth and falsity of religious and nonreligious propositions. For both groups, and in both categories of stimuli, belief (judgments of “true” vs judgments of “false”) was associated with greater signal in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area important for self-representation , , , , emotional associations , reward , , , and goal-driven behavior . This region showed greater signal whether subjects believed statements about God, the Virgin Birth, etc. or statements about ordinary facts. A comparison of both stimulus categories suggests that religious thinking is more associated with brain regions that govern emotion, self-representation, and cognitive conflict, while thinking about ordinary facts is more reliant upon memory retrieval networks.
While religious and nonreligious thinking differentially engage broad regions of the frontal, parietal, and medial temporal lobes, the difference between belief and disbelief appears to be content-independent. Our study compares religious thinking with ordinary cognition and, as such, constitutes a step toward developing a neuropsychology of religion. However, these findings may also further our understanding of how the brain accepts statements of all kinds to be valid descriptions of the world.
There is evidence that the right hemisphere is involved in processing self-related stimuli. Previous brain imaging research has found a network of right-lateralized brain regions that preferentially respond to seeing one's own face rather than a familiar other. Given that the self is an abstract multimodal concept, we tested whether these brain regions would also discriminate the sound of one's own voice compared to a friend's voice. Participants were shown photographs of their own face and friend's face, and also listened to recordings of their own voice and a friend's voice during fMRI scanning. Consistent with previous studies, seeing one's own face activated regions in the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), inferior parietal lobe and inferior occipital cortex in the right hemisphere. In addition, listening to one's voice also showed increased activity in the right IFG. These data suggest that the right IFG is concerned with processing self-related stimuli across multiple sensory modalities and that it may contribute to an abstract self-representation.
self; self-recognition; fMRI; face; voice
In lateralized simple reaction time (SRT) tasks with unimanual responses, reaction times (RTs) are faster with ipsilateral (uncrossed) than with contralateral (crossed) response hand- target hemifield combinations. The difference between crossed and uncrossed responses (CUD) is typically interpreted to reflect callosal transfer time. Indeed, split brain patients have much longer CUDs than control subjects. However, while many studies have supported the hypothesis that the CUD reflects callosal transmission time, a few studies have suggested that the CUD may be affected by non-anatomical factors. We investigated the nature of these inconsistent results in two experiments. In the first, we asked half of our subjects to cross their arms while performing the task. The CUD was not affected by arms crossing, supporting the anatomical model of the CUD. In the second experiment, however, all subjects were asked to cross their arms in half of the trials. In this experiment, arms crossing significantly affected the CUD, thus showing that spatial attention modulates the CUD. These latter results cannot be readily explained by a simple callosal relay interpretation of the CUD. Rather, the CUD seems to reflect a mix of anatomical and non-anatomical factors produced by task history. Thus, the seemingly inconsistent results of previous studies can be reconciled by taking into account differences in task history across studies.
Reaction time; Poffenberger paradigm; Interhemispheric transfer; Spatial attention; Task context
Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by decreased interest and engagement in social interactions and by enhanced self-focus. While previous theoretical approaches to understanding autism have emphasized social impairments and altered interpersonal interactions, there is a recent shift towards understanding the nature of the representation of the self in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Still, the neural mechanisms subserving self-representations in ASD are relatively unexplored.
We used event-related fMRI to investigate brain responsiveness to images of the subjects' own face and to faces of others. Children with ASD and typically developing (TD) children viewed randomly presented digital morphs between their own face and a gender-matched other face, and made “self/other” judgments. Both groups of children activated a right premotor/prefrontal system when identifying images containing a greater percentage of the self face. However, while TD children showed activation of this system during both self- and other-processing, children with ASD only recruited this system while viewing images containing mostly their own face.
This functional dissociation between the representation of self versus others points to a potential neural substrate for the characteristic self-focus and decreased social understanding exhibited by these individuals, and suggests that individuals with ASD lack the shared neural representations for self and others that TD children and adults possess and may use to understand others.
Parallel processing of multiple sensory stimuli is critical for efficient, successful interaction with the environment. An experimental approach to studying parallel processing in sensorimotor integration is to examine reaction times to multiple copies of the same stimulus. Reaction times to bilateral copies of light flashes are faster than to single, unilateral light flashes. These faster responses may be due to ‘statistical facilitation’ between independent processing streams engaged by the two copies of the light flash. On some trials, however, reaction times are faster than predicted by statistical facilitation. This indicates that a neural ‘coactivation’ of the two processing streams must have occurred. Here we use fMRI to investigate the neural locus of this coactivation. Subjects responded manually to the detection of unilateral light flashes presented to the left or right visual hemifield, and to the detection of bilateral light flashes. We compared the bilateral trials where subjects' reaction times exceeded the limit predicted by statistical facilitation to bilateral trials that did not exceed the limit. Activity in the right temporo-parietal junction was higher in those bilateral trials that showed coactivation than in those that did not. These results suggest the neural coactivation observed in visuomotor integration occurs at a cognitive rather than sensory or motor stage of processing.
Self–other discrimination is fundamental to social interaction, however, little is known about the neural systems underlying this ability. In a previous functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we demonstrated that a right fronto-parietal network is activated during viewing of self-faces as compared with the faces of familiar others. Here we used image-guided repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to create a ’virtual lesion’ over the parietal component of this network to test whether this region is necessary for discriminating self-faces from other familiar faces. The current results indeed show that 1 Hz rTMS to the right inferior parietal lobule (IPL) selectively disrupts performance on a self–other discrimination task. Applying 1 Hz rTMS to the left IPL had no effect. It appears that activity in the right IPL is essential to the task, thus providing for the first time evidence for a causal relation between a human brain area and this high-level cognitive capacity.
self-awareness; self-recognition; social cognition; inferior parietal lobule; mirror neurons
It has been suggested that cortical neural systems for language evolved from motor cortical systems, in particular from those fronto-parietal systems responding also to action observation. While previous studies have shown shared cortical systems for action – or action observation - and language, they did not address the question of whether linguistic processing of visual stimuli occurs only within a subset of fronto-parietal areas responding to action observation. If this is true, the hypothesis that language evolved from fronto-parietal systems matching action execution and action observation would be strongly reinforced.
Methodology/ Principal Findings
We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while subjects watched video stimuli of hand-object-interactions and control photo stimuli of the objects and performed linguistic (conceptual and phonological), and perceptual tasks. Since stimuli were identical for linguistic and perceptual tasks, differential activations had to be related to task demands. The results revealed that the linguistic tasks activated left inferior frontal areas that were subsets of a large bilateral fronto-parietal network activated during action perception. Not a single cortical area demonstrated exclusive – or even simply higher - activation for the linguistic tasks compared to the action perception task.
These results show that linguistic tasks do not only share common neural representations but essentially activate a subset of the action observation network if identical stimuli are used. Our findings strongly support the evolutionary hypothesis that fronto-parietal systems matching action execution and observation were co-opted for language, a process known as exaptation.