Infant Brains Respond to Other People’s Actions

The previous study explored global changes in brain activation patterns as infants watched another person’s actions. Researchers have also explored the brain areas that are activated when an infant watches an action performed with a specific body part, such as a hand or a foot. To imitate an action, infants need to know what body part was used. Otherwise when adults clap, a child might use their elbows or feet to produce the action. What kind of “body map” do young infants have? How and where do their brains code the difference between hands and feet?

In these studies, an infant wears an EEG cap and watches an adult use either her hand or her foot to press a button. When the adult presses the button with her hand, sensors on the EEG cap detect activity in the hand area of the infant’s brain. When the adult presses the button with her foot, the foot area of the infant’s brain lights up. When you play with an infant, such as using your hand to play patty cake or to push a button on a toy, the infant’s brain is telling them to use their hand to produce the same action. This supports learning by imitation and their feelings of connectedness to other people.

  • Control group
    a group in a study who does not receive the treatment. The group serves as a comparison for the experimental group.
    Deferred imitation
    reproducing a behavior after a delay from its initial demonstration
    Electroencephalography (EEG)
    a method used to measure electrical activity in the brain
    the ability to apply something learned in one situation to a new situation
    observing then reproducing, or copying, a behavior
    Mirror neurons
    a type of brain cell. Mirror neurons respond when an animal produces an action and when they observe another animal produce the same action.
    Theory of mind
    the awareness that other people can have different thoughts and feelings from one’s own
    Trial-and-error learning
    trying different actions until you perform the right one