Previous developmental research suggests that motor experience supports the development of action perception across the lifespan. However, it is still unknown when the neural mechanisms underlying action-perception coupling emerge in infancy. The goal of this study was to examine the neural correlates of action perception during the emergence of grasping abilities in newborn rhesus macaques. Neural activity, recorded via electroencephalogram (EEG), while monkeys observed grasping actions, mimed actions and means-end movements during the first (W1) and second week (W2) of life was measured. Event-related desynchronization (ERD) during action observation was computed from the EEG in the alpha and beta bands, two components of the sensorimotor mu rhythm associated with activity of the mirror neuron system (MNS). Results revealed age-related changes in the beta band, but not the alpha band, over anterior electrodes, with greater desynchronization at W2 than W1 for the observation of grasping actions. Additionally, desynchronization to observed grasping actions at W2 was associated with infants’ motor skills – measured by a separate behavioral task – such that more grasping attempts were associated to greater beta ERD. These findings suggest the emergence of an early action-perception system, that relies on motor experience, shortly after birth.
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