Early Social Experience Affects Neural Activity to Affiliative Facial Gestures in Newborn Nonhuman Primates

Ross E. Vanderwert, Elizabeth A. Simpson, Annika Paukner, Stephen J. Suomi, Nathan A. Fox, Pier F. Ferrari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


A fundamental issue in cognitive neuroscience is how the brain encodes the actions and intentions of others. The discovery of an action-production-perception mechanism underpinning such a capacity advanced our knowledge of how these processes occur; however, no study has examined how the early postnatal environment may shape action-production-perception. Here, we examined the effects of social experience on action-production-perception in 3-day-old rhesus macaques that were raised either with or without their biological mothers. We measured the neonatal imitation skills and brain electrical activity responses, while infants produced and observed facial gestures. We hypothesized that early social experiences may shape brain activity, as assessed via electroencephalogram suppression in the α band (5-7 Hz in infants, known as the mu rhythm) during action observation, and lead to more proficient imitation skills. Consistent with this hypothesis, the infants reared by their mothers were more likely to imitate lipsmacking (LS)-a natural, affiliative gesture-and exhibited greater mu rhythm desynchronization while viewing LS gestures than the nursery-reared infants. These effects were not found in response to tongue protrusion, a meaningless gesture, or a nonsocial control. These data suggest that socially enriched early experiences in the first days after birth increase brain sensitivity to socially relevant actions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-252
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopmental Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 22 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Action perception
  • Communication
  • Electroencephalogram
  • Infants
  • Mirror neuron
  • Mother-infant interactions
  • Mu rhythm
  • Neonatal imitation
  • Plasticity
  • Sensitive period

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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