Meyer, M., Braukmann, R., Stapel, J.C., Bekkering, H., & Hunnius, S. (2016). Monitoring others’ errors: The role of the motor system in early childhood and adulthood. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 34, 66–85.
Abstract. Previous research demonstrates that from early in life, our cortical sensorimotor areas are activated both when performing and when observing actions (mirroring). Recent findings suggest that the adult motor system is also involved in detecting others’ rule violations. Yet, how this translates to everyday action errors (e.g., accidentally dropping something) and how error-sensitive motor activity for others’ actions emerges are still unknown. In this study, we examined the role of the motor system in error monitoring. Participants observed successful and unsuccessful pincer grasp actions while their electroencephalography was registered. We tested infants (8- and 14-month-olds) at different stages of learning the pincer grasp and adults as advanced graspers. Power in Alpha- and Beta-frequencies was analysed to assess motor and visual processing. Adults showed enhanced motor activity when observing erroneous actions. However, neither 8- nor 14-month-olds displayed this error sensitivity, despite showing motor activity for both actions. All groups did show similar visual activity, that is more Alpha-suppression, when observing correct actions. Thus, while correct and erroneous actions were processed as visually distinct in all age groups, only the adults’ motor system was sensitive to action correctness. Functionality of different brain oscillations in the development of error monitoring and mirroring is discussed.