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Action observation and imitation in the healthy brain and in high-functioning adults with autism spectrum conditions

Cook, J.L.; (2012) Action observation and imitation in the healthy brain and in high-functioning adults with autism spectrum conditions. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Accurate action perception plays an important role in social interaction enabling us to identify and appropriately respond to the behaviour of others. One such response is automatic imitation, the reflexive copying of observed body movements. Action perception is associated with activity in posterior brain areas, which feed into the Mirror Neuron System (MNS), a network of regions that has been associated with imitation and which is under the regulatory control of frontal brain areas. The fMRI study described in Chapter 2 demonstrated that in healthy adults, action perception can be subdivided into objective and subjective components which are primarily associated with activity in different brain areas. Chapter 3 demonstrated that activity in MNS areas, as measured by MEG, comprises an automatic motoric simulation of the kinematics of observed actions. Chapters 2 and 3 therefore enhance knowledge of the neural mechanisms of action perception in the typical brain. Previous studies have linked Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) with action perception and imitation impairments. Chapters 4 and 5 demonstrated that adults with ASC exhibit atypical action perception which is likely due to difficulties with subjective processing (i.e. knowing what a ‘natural’ human movement should look like) rather than with objective visual processing of human motion. Chapter 6 reported a lack of imitation in ASC: whereas typical adults imitated human movements more than robot movements, individuals with ASC failed to imitate. Chapter 7 suggested that problems with imitation in ASC may relate to difficulties with the control of imitation: whereas control participants show increased levels of imitation when in a positive social frame-of-mind individuals with ASC did not. Chapters 4 to 7 have implications for ASC. They suggest that atypical imitation may be due to atypical sensory input to the MNS (i.e. impaired action perception) and/or atypical control of imitation.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Action observation and imitation in the healthy brain and in high-functioning adults with autism spectrum conditions
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
Additional information:Copyright restricted material has been removed from the e-thesis
UCL classification:UCL > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Psychology and Language Sciences (Division of)

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