Abstract

At birth, human infants and newborns of other primate species demonstrate the capacity to attend and to respond to facial stimuli provided by a caregiver. Newborn infants are also capable of exhibiting a range of facial expressions. Identification of the neural underpinnings of these capacities represents a formidable challenge in understanding social development. One possible neuronal substrate is the mirror-neuron system assumed to activate shared motor cortical representations for both observation and production of actions. We tested this hypothesis by recording scalp EEG from 1- to 7-day-old newborn rhesus macaques who were observing and producing facial gestures. We found that 5–6 Hz EEG activity was suppressed both when the infants produced facial gestures and while they were observing facial gestures of a human experimenter, but not when they were observing nonbiological stimuli. These findings demonstrate the presence of neural reactivity for biological, communicatively relevant stimuli, which may be a likely signature of neuronal mirroring. The basic elements of the mirror-neuron system appear to operate from the very first days of life and contribute to the encoding of socially relevant stimuli.

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