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Neural correlates of infant action processing relate to theory of mind in early childhood.

Authors
  • Filippi, Courtney1
  • Choi, Yeo Bi2
  • Fox, Nathan A3
  • Woodward, Amanda L4
  • 1 Section on Development and Affective Neuroscience, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
  • 2 Center for Autism and the Developing Brain, Weill Cornell Medicine, White Plains, New York.
  • 3 Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland.
  • 4 Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.
Type
Published Article
Journal
Developmental Science
Publisher
Wiley (Blackwell Publishing)
Publication Date
Mar 01, 2020
Volume
23
Issue
2
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1111/desc.12876
PMID: 31162859
Source
Medline
Keywords
Language
English
License
Unknown

Abstract

The mechanisms that support infant action processing are thought to be involved in the development of later social cognition. While a growing body of research demonstrates longitudinal links between action processing and explicit theory of mind (TOM), it remains unclear why this link emerges in some measures of action encoding and not others. In this paper, we recruit neural measures as a unique lens into which aspects of human infant action processing (i.e., action encoding and action execution; age 7 months) are related to preschool TOM (age 3 years; n = 31). We test whether individual differences in recruiting the sensorimotor system or attention processes during action encoding predict individual differences in TOM. Results indicate that reduced occipital alpha during action encoding predicts TOM at age 3. This finding converges with behavioral work and suggests that attentional processes involved in action encoding may support TOM. We also test whether neural processing during action execution draws on the proto-substrates of effortful control (EC). Results indicate that frontal alpha oscillatory activity during action execution predicted EC at age 3-providing strong novel evidence that infant brain activity is longitudinally linked to EC. Further, we demonstrate that EC mediates the link between the frontal alpha response and TOM. This indirect effect is specific in terms of direction, neural response, and behavior. Together, these findings converge with behavioral research and demonstrate that domain general processes show strong links to early infant action processing and TOM. © 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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