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Actions representations and their impairement

Status: In progress  
Faculty: Alessandro Verri, Francesca Odone  
Proposed start date: 2010-01-01 Proposed end date: 2012-12-31

One of the most exciting discoveries in neurosciences over the last few years has been that of a mechanism that directly ties perception and action: the mirror mechanism. More recently, it has been shown that neurons endowed with the mirror mechanism- mirror neurons- are organized in motor chains and that this chains may underlie the capacity to understand both the goal of motor acts and the intention behind them.


The aim of this project is to investigate the action-chain organisation in humans, from a functional and computational point of view, and specify its role in intention understanding as well as in related impairments, with special reference to autism. The first part of the project will be focused on localizing the cortical areas involved in coding intention and assessing its temporal dynamics, as well as on providing computational models of action-chain organization and its role in both action execution and observation. The aim of the second part will be to study the strategies used by children with autism to understand other’s intentions, localize cortical mechanisms underlying such strategies, and explore possible rehabilitation procedures. fMRI, EEG multichannel and behavioural studies will be carried out. We expect that the combination of neurophysiological cognitive and computational investigations will allow us to increase our knowledge on action and intention coding in humans and find new insights on the mechanisms that are impaired in autism.

The project is coordinated by Prof Giacomo Rizzolatti.

Research units:

  • Neuroscience Dept (Università di Parma),
  • Psychology Dept (Università di Torino),
  • Physics Sciences Dept (Università di Napoli "Federico II")
  • Computing and Information Science Dept (Università di Genova)