Bakker, M., Sommerville, J., & Gredebäck, G. (2016) Enhanced neural processing of goal-directed actions during active training in 4-month-old infants. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 28, 472-482.

The current study explores the neural correlates of action perception and its relation to infants ́ active experience performing goal-directed actions. Study 1 provided active training with sticky mittens that enables grasping and object manipulation in pre-reaching 4-month-olds. Following training, EEG was recorded while infants observed images of hands grasping towards (congruent) or away from (incongruent) objects. We demonstrate that brief active training facilitates social perception as indexed by larger amplitude of the P400 ERP component to congruent compared to incongruent trials. Study 2 presented 4-month-old infants with passive training in which they observed an experimenter perform goal-directed reaching actions, followed by an identical ERP session to that used in Study 1. The second study did not demonstrate any differentiation between congruent and incongruent trials. These results suggest that (1) active experience alters the brains’ response to goal-directed actions performed by others, and that (2) visual exposure alone is not sufficient in developing the neural networks sub-serving goal processing during action observation in infancy.