The Action and Interaction laboratory investigates how we control our own actions and imitate and comprehend others' actions. We investigate these questions both in typical development and in individuals with autism spectrum conditions. Below is an overview of some projects undertaken in our laboratory.

Action-Mirroring: Observation of action activates corresponding motor representations: Neuroimaging studies find that passive action observation activates premotor and primary motor cortical representations of action. Behavioural studies show that we tend to perform actions similar to those observed even when we have no intention to copy, and perhaps no awareness of having done so. Research in our laboratory investigates differences in 'mirroring' of human and non-biological (e.g. robotic) movement and the role of this mirroring in prediction and interpretation of observed action. Additionally, we study the learning processes by which the mechanisms mediating mirroring develop, and whether they operate specifically to support social function or are part of a wider mechanism adapted for action control.

Action Control: When we send a motor command to perform an action (e.g. pick up a cup), we must predict the likely resulting sensory input (see hand approach cup, feel tactile stimulation on the fingertips). If the actual sensory information deviates from prediction, rapid corrective adjustments must be made to ensure that the action is successfully executed. Work in our laboratory addresses the effect of these predictions on sensory processing and the learning processes that allow us to make these predictions.

Autism Spectrum Conditions: Action control, imitation and sensory processing impairments are widely reported in individuals with autism spectrum conditions (ASC), but it is unclear what underlies these difficulties. Studies in our laboratory aim to understand these impairments in ASC and how they relate to other impairments in these individuals and similar impairments seen in those with other disorders. We are interested in implementing behavioural interventions to target these impairments.

Methods

We use various behavioural and neuroimaging methods to address these questions. For example