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Home RBCS ■ Mirror Neurons and Interactions

Mirror Neurons and Interaction

The MNI Lab is involved in several research projects on the action-perception brain network. In fact, once believed to be an output system, slavishly following the dictate of the perceptual brain, the motor brain is now recognized as critical component of perceptual and cognitive functions. Action-perception interactions are investigated by using electrophysiological methods (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), Electroncephalgraphy (EEG)) behavioral methods (Eye-tracking, body motion capture) and computational models (Neural Networks, Probabilistic Graphical Models).

Research topics:

Action-Perception Network Syntax of Action Speech-Perception Network
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We investigate motor activations during the observation of others' action with particular emphasis on its level of granularity, plasticity and generalization ability.

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We study the role of Broca's area in language, action and music and specifically in manipulating syntactic hierarchies. In fact, Broca's area might be encoding a-modal hierarchical structures.

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The motor system seems to be causally involved in speech perception. We investigate the specific role of the motor system and the conditions that favor its recruitment.

Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) Music as a model of sensorimotor interactions Social Interaction
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While human beings show an excellent ability to understand speech, reliable ASR systems are still a great challenge. We study the use of motor information to improve ASR systems.

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Coordinated action is a basic ability for social interaction. We investigate how body motion and facial temperature changes of ensemble musician's may shed light on group-level non-verbal communication.

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The pull to coordinate with others is fundamental, serving as the basis for our social connectedness to others. We investigate how acting with a partner might influence action planning and control in different social contexts.&a

Inferring Intention from Motion
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The way we grasp an object varies depending on the intention with which the object is grasped. We investigate the role of movement features in the coding of intention.

EXTERNAL PROJECTS:

SIEMPRE
The SIEMPRE project faces cross-disciplinary research to investigate novel paradigms and computational models of non-verbal creative group communication.
POETICON++
The POETICON++ project uses natural language as a learning tool for the development of novel motor programs and visual experience for robots.
I.MOVE.U

The I.move.U project uses advanced methods in psychophysics and neuroscience to investigate the decoding of intention during human social interaction (ERC-2012-StG-312919).

SELECTED PUBLICATIONS:


  • *D'Ausilio A., *Badino L., Li Y., Tokay S., Craighero L., *Canto R., Aloimonos Y. and *Fadiga L. (2012)
    Leadership in orchestra emerges from the causal relationships of movement kinematics
    PLoS ONE, vol. 7, (no. 5), pp. e35757, 1932-6203
  • Castellini C., *Badino L., *Metta G., *Sandini G., Tavella M., Grimaldi M. and *Fadiga L. (2011)
    The use of phonetic motor invariants can improve automatic phoneme discrimination
    PLoS ONE, vol. 6, (no. 9), pp. e24055, 1932-6203
  • D'Ausilio A., Pulvermüller F., Salmas P., Bufalari I., Begliomini C. and Fadiga L. (2009)
    The motor somatotopy of speech perception
    Current Biology, vol. 19, (no. 5), pp. 381-5, 0960-9822
  • Becchio C., Cavallo A., Begliomini C., Sartori L., Feltrin G., & Castiello U. (2012)
    Social grasping: from mirroring to mentalizing.
    NeuroImage, 61, 240-248.
  • Becchio C., Manera V., Sartori L., Cavallo A., & Castiello U. (2012)
    Grasping intentions: from thought experiments to empirical evidence.
    Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 117.
  • Ansuini, C., Santello, M., Massaccesi, S. & Castiello, U. (2006)
    Effects of end-goal on hand shaping
    Journal of Neurophysiology, 95: 2456 - 65.
alt Action-Perception Network
People involved:

Luciano Fadiga, Alessandro D'Ausilio, Eleonora Bartoli, Laura Maffongelli, Elisabetta Ferrari

The motor system has been shown to activate during observation of grasping action but also by intransitive actions suggesting that the motor cortex coded the observed movements (Fadiga et al., 1995). This modulation was also shown to follow the time course of a reaching-grasping action (Gangitano et al., 2001) and anticipate the actor's muscle activation in a somatotopic manner (Borroni et al., 2005). Moreover, there is some indications that MEPs modulation scales with the force required to execute the action, thus suggesting that the observer may infer actor's muscle contraction information out of visual kinematic cues (Senot et al., 2011). Therefore, it is plausible that the motor system might be able to extract at least some muscle control parameters by observing fine details of the actor's movement kinematics.

The Mirror Neurons and Interaction Lab studies the level of granularity the motor system is able to extract from the observed action.

Specific projects investigate:

  • The granularity of the motor representation elicited via action observation
  • The role played by the motor system in action recognition
  • The role played by the motor system in object recognition

Borroni, P., Montagna, M., Cerri, G., & Baldissera, F. (2005)
Cyclic time course of motor excitability modulation during the observation of a cyclic hand movement
Brain Research, 1065(1-2), 115-24

Fadiga, L., Craighero, L., & Olivier, E. (2005)
Human motor cortex excitability during the perception of others' action
Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 15(2), 213-8

Gangitano, M., Mottaghy, F. M., & Pascual-Leone, A. (2001)
Phase specific modulation of cortical motor output during mevement observation
Neuroreport, 12, 1489-92

Senot P., *D'Ausilio A., Franca M., Caselli L., Craighero L. and Fadiga L. (2011)
Effect of weight-related labels on corticospinal excitability during observation of grasping: a TMS study
Experimental Brain Research, vol. 211, (no. 1), pp. 161-167, 1432-1106

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alt Syntax of Action
People involved:

Luciano Fadiga, Alessandro D'Ausilio, Laura Maffongelli, Eleonora Bartoli, Elisabetta Ferrari

Broca's area plays a pivotal role in language, action and music (Fdiga, Craighero, D'Ausilio, 2009). Broca's area involvement in language production has a long history, recently though, it's role has been extended also to receptive functions (Friederici, 2002). Broca's area is also at the center of a brain network for the encoding of action goals, either observed or executed. Finally Broca's area was found implicated in the encoding of musical syntax much the way it does encode language structures (Koelsch, 2006). Patients with a lesion centered in Broca's area were impaired in an action sequencing task suggesting the intriguing possibility that Broca's area could represent action's syntactic rules rather than the basic motor program to execute them (Fazio et al., 2009; Clerget, 2009, 2012). Actions are denoted by a relevant behavioral goal that, in order to be achieved, requires the composition of simpler motor acts. Single motor acts do not necessarily posses a goal that motivates their execution. On the other hand, the same motor act might be part of very different actions, associated to different goals. Actions and motor acts are also composed of simpler units representing the spatio-temporal sequence of muscle activations. These action hierarchies resemble the complex structures shown in other domains, such as music and language and, more interestingly, the experimental manipulation of these complex structures is associated with the activation of premotor and Broca's areas, regardless of the domain of study (i.e. music or language). Hence, Broca's area might be a center of a brain network encoding hierarchical structures regardless of their use in action, language or music.

The Mirror Neurons and Interaction Lab studies action syntax and the role played by Broca's area in supramodal syntax encoding.

Specific projects investigate:

  • EEG markers of action syntax violation
  • Action-Language-Music shared resources investigation
  • Supramodal syntax processing in aphasic patients (action sequencing tasks, knot making tasks)

Fadiga, L., Craighero, L., & D'Ausilio, A. (2009)
Broca's area in language, action, and music.
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1169, 448-58

Fazio P., Cantagallo A., Craighero L., D'Ausilio A., Roy A. C., Pozzo T., Calzolari F., Granieri E. and Fadiga L. (2009)
Encoding of human action in Broca's area
Brain, vol. 132, (no. 7), pp. 1980-1988, 0006-8950

Friederici, A. D. (2002)
Towards a neural basis of auditory sentence processing
Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6(2), 78-84

Koelsch, S., Fritz, T., V Cramon, D. Y., Müller, K., & Friederici, A. D. (2006)
Investigating emotion with music: an fMRI study
Human Brain Mapping, 27(3), 239-50

Clerget E., Poncin W., *Fadiga L. and Olivier E. (2012)
Role of Broca's Area in Implicit Motor Skill Learning: Evidence from Continuous Theta-burst Magnetic Stimulation
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, vol. 24, (no. 1), pp. 80-92, 0898-929X

Clerget E., Winderickx A., Fadiga L. and Olivier E. (2009)
Role of Broca's area in encoding sequential human actions: a virtual lesion study
Neuroreport, vol. 20, (no. 16), pp. 1496-9, 0959-4965

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alt Speech-Perception Network
People involved:

Luciano Fadiga, Alessandro D'Ausilio, Eleonora Bartoli, Laura Maffongelli, Leonardo Badino, Elisabetta Ferrari

Speech perception has been shown to activate the motor system of the listener (Fadiga et al., 2002; and many others). This motor activation is somatotopically organized such that listening to tongue-produced sounds (i.e. [r] or [l] sounds) activate the tongue motor representation. However, it has been disputed that such motor activations may be simply correlated discharges that are not related with the real process of speech sound decoding (Toni et al., 2008). Recently, the selective interference with speech production centers proved effective in altering subject's performance in speech discrimination tasks (D'Ausilio et al., 2009, 2011a, 2011b, 2012). All together these data may suggest that the motor system is causally related to the perception of speech.

The Mirror Neurons and Interaction Lab studies the role of the motor system in speech perception and the conditions that favor its recruitment.

Specific projects investigate:

  • The role played by the motor system in speech recognition
  • The contextual factors favoring the recruitment of the motor system
  • Computation models of the functional contribution of the motor system to speech perception

D'Ausilio A., Pulvermüller F., Salmas P., Bufalari I., Begliomini C. and Fadiga L. (2009)
The motor somatotopy of speech perception
Current Biology, vol. 19, (no. 5), pp. 381-5, 0960-9822

Fadiga, L., Craighero, L., Buccino, G., & Rizzolatti, G. (2002)
Speech listening specifically modulates the excitability of tongue muscles?: a TMS study
European Journal of Neuroscience, 15, 399-402

Toni, I., de Lange, F. P., Noordzij, M. L., & Hagoort, P. (2008)
Language beyond action
Journal of Physiology (Paris), 102(1-3), 71-9

*D'Ausilio A., Jarmolowska J., Busan P., Bufalari I. and Craighero L. (2011)
Tongue corticospinal modulation during attended verbal stimuli: priming and coarticulation effects
Neuropsychologia, vol. 49, (no. 13), pp. 3670-3676

*D'Ausilio A., Bufalari I., *Salmas P. and *Fadiga L. (2012)
The role of the motor system in discriminating normal and degraded speech sounds
Cortex, vol. 48, (no. 7), pp. 882-887, 0010-9452

D'Ausilio A., Bufalari I., *Salmas P., Busan P. and *Fadiga L. (2011)
Vocal pitch discrimination in the motor system
Brain and Language, vol. 118, (no. 1-2), pp. 9-14

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alt Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR)
People involved:

Luciano Fadiga, Giorgio Metta, Leonardo Badino, Claudia Canevari

While human beings show an excellent ability to understand one another's speech, independently of the speaker, the accent, the noise, etc., the robustness to speech variability of state-of-the-art ASR systems is still a great challenge. More reliable ASR systems may be achieved by (explicitly) using speech production knowledge (King et al., 2007). The motivation behind such approach is the well-known regular and largely invariant behavior of the vocal tract during speech production.
By using simultaneous recordings of articulatory and acoustic streams during speech production it is possible to learn an Acoustic-Articulatory Mapping (AAM) function that allows to recover the articulatory information from speech when only speech is available (i.e., when the listener is recognizing someone else's speech). The reconstruction of articulatory information can be seen as an extraction of robust features from the acoustic domain. We consider this as the main (but not the only) motivation behind the use of measured articulatory information for ASR.

The Mirror Neurons and Interaction Lab investigates the contribution of the motor information to Automatic Speech Recognition.

Specific projects study:

  • Novel AAM functions that goes through hierarchical representations of the acoustic and motor domains.
  • The combined use of acoustic and motor information for �unsupervised� ASR systems (basic units such as sub-words, typically phonemes are automatically learned from data)
  • Audio-Visual Speech Recognition

Castellini C., *Badino L., *Metta G., *Sandini G., Tavella M., Grimaldi M. and *Fadiga L. (2011)
The use of phonetic motor invariants can improve automatic phoneme discrimination
PLoS ONE, vol. 6, (no. 9), pp. e24055, 1932-6203

King, S., Frankel, J., Livescu, K., McDermott, E., Richmond, K., & Wester, M. (2007)
Speech production knowledge in automatic speech recognition
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 121(2), 723-42

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alt Music as a model of sensorimotor interactions
People involved:

Luciano Fadiga, Leonardo Badino, Alessandro D'Ausilio, Claudia Canevari, Eleonora Bartoli

Coordinated action is one of the basic abilities for social interactions (Nagy et al., 2010; Neda et al., 2000). Coordinated action might be conceived as a successful degree of synchrony or complementarity between actions performed by at least two individuals. Among human-specific abilities requiring inter-individual coordinative efforts, some have gained more attention than others, such as speech communication (Scott, McGettigan, Eisner, 2009) or action perception/production (Newman-Norlund et al., 2008). On the other hand, other complex behaviors might be similarly productive and yet less explored fields of research - such as music (Keller et al., 2007). Language, action and music indeed share several intriguing similarities that might be usefully exploited to foster further research on inter-individual communication dynamics (Fadiga, Craighero, D'Ausilio, 2009). Since musicians are a perfect model to study sensory-motor brain plasticity and organization (Münte et al. 2002), we use them as a model of how effective communication is shaped by efficient gestures coordination.

The Mirror Neurons and Interaction Lab studies how kinematic measures of ensemble musician's action may shed some light of the complex dynamical network of interactions among them.

Specific projects investigate:

  • Movement coordination among musicians (orchestras and quartets) via the Granger Causality method
  • Movement communication among musicians (orchestras and quartets) via the Information Theory approach
  • Audience facial temperature measures to quantify musical entrainment and emotional contagion

Newman-Norlund, R.D., van Schie, H.T., van Zuijlen, A.M., & Bekkering, H. (2007)
The mirror neuron system is more active during complementary compared with imitative action
Nature Neuroscience. 2007 Jul;10(7):817-8

D'Ausili, A., müller E., Olivetti Belardinelli M., & Lotze M. (2006)
Cross-modal plasticity of the motor cortex while listening to a rehearsed musical piece
European Journal of Neuroscience. 2006 Aug;24(3):955-8

Fadiga L., Craighero L. and D'Ausilio A. (2009)
Broca's area in language, action, and music
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 1169, pp. 448-58, 0077-8923

*D'Ausilio A., *Badino L., Li Y., Tokay S., Craighero L., *Canto R., Aloimonos Y. and *Fadiga L. (2012)
Leadership in orchestra emerges from the causal relationships of movement kinematics
PLoS ONE, vol. 7, (no. 5), pp. e35757, 1932-6203

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alt Social Interaction
People involved:

Cristina Becchio, Caterina Ansuini, Andrea Cavallo

Humans spend most of their time interacting with other people. Despite this, for many years, cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience have focused on individual cognition, developing paradigms suited to investigating individual minds in isolation. We study the social nature of action planning and control by applying an interactive setting in which participants act with others.

The Mirror Neurons and Interaction Lab studies how the motor system cope with the requests embedded in a “social environment”.

 

Specific projects investigate:

  • The motor organization of social interaction
  • The influence of social intention on action kinematics
  • The effect of motor execution on perceived social saliency

 

Marco Jacono and Laura Taverna provide technical support to this project.

Becchio, C., Sartori, L., & Castiello, U. (2010). Toward you: the social side of actions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19, 183-188.

Cavallo, A., Heyes, C., Becchio, C., Bird, G., & Catmur, C (2013)
Timecourse of mirror and counter-mirror effects measured with transcranial magnetic stimulation.
Social cognitive and affective neuroscience.

Becchio, C., Sartori, L., & Castiello, U. (2010)
Toward you: the social side of actions.
Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19, 183-188.

Becchio, C., Sartori, L., Bulgheroni, M., & Castiello, U. (2008)
The case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A kinematic study on social intention.
Consciousness and cognition, 17, 557-564.

Lukos, J., Ansuini, C., & Santello, M. (2007)
Choice of contact points during multidigit grasping: effect of predictability of object center of mass location.
The Journal of neuroscience, 27(14), 3894-3903.

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alt Inferring Intention from Motion
People involved:

Cristina Becchio, Andrea Cavallo, Caterina Ansuini

When we perform actions in daily life, these actions are usually driven by a prior intention. For instance, the action of grasping a cup might be performed with the intention to drink or to pass the cup to another person. Because different intentional actions are characterized by different movement profiles, monitoring the properties of observed movements may convey information about the actor's intention.

 

The Mirror Neurons and Interaction Lab studies the relationship between the properties of prehensile movements and intention by using a variety of tools such as fMRI, TMS, EMG and kinematics techniques.

 

Specific projects investigate:

  • The ability to extract information about intention via action observation
  • The coding of intention during online social interaction.

 

Marco Jacono and Laura Taverna provide technical support to this project.

Becchio C., Cavallo A., Begliomini C., Sartori L., Feltrin G., & Castiello U. (2012)
Social grasping: from mirroring to mentalizing.
NeuroImage, 61, 240-248.

Becchio C., Manera V., Sartori L., Cavallo A., & Castiello U. (2012)
Grasping intentions: from thought experiments to empirical evidence.
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 117.

Ansuini, C., Giosa, L., Turella, L., Altoè, G. & Castiello U. (2008)
An object for an action, the same object for other actions: effects on hand shaping.
Experimental Brain Research, 185: 111-119.

Becchio, C., Sartori, L., Bulgheroni, M., & Castiello, U. (2008)
Both your intention and mine are reflected in the kinematics of my reach-to-grasp movement.
Cognition, 106, 894-912.

Ansuini, C., Santello, M., Massaccesi, S. & Castiello, U. (2006)
Effects of end-goal on hand shaping
Journal of Neurophysiology, 95: 2456 - 65.

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