From perception and action to the building blocks of social cognition: fMRI studies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Psychology


It is standardly thought that action follows perception. However, much recent work from cognitive neuroscience contradicts this view, suggesting instead that our actions influence what we perceive. Moreover, our ability to predict both our own and others? future actions not only affects immediate perception but also our behaviour in social contexts, so that the control and prediction of action may provide a crucial ?building block? for the devleopment of social cognition. Disorders that affect the interaction between perception and action are found in a large number of neuropsychological and neuropsychiatric syndromes, from unilateral visual neglect, optic ataxia, and apraxia, through to autism and schizophrenia. Developing a better understanding of the basic processes involved, and their neural underpinnings, will in turn lead to the development of improved diagnostic services, and, in the longer term, improved treatment when impairments occur. This collaborative group application is to provide support posts for studies that will use a new high-resolution functional brain imaging facility to study the brain mechansisms mediating the interaction between perception and action. The collaboration brings together experts in human perception and attention, action control, and social cognitive processes, to provide a critical mass of researchers, visible at an international level. Through its excellent links to neuropsychological patients, and its access to novel and combined forms of neuroscientific measurements, the imaging facility will have a unique identity, serving as the focus for national and regional training.

Technical Summary

Recent research indicates that action and perception are part of an interactive cycle, with action affecting perception as well as perception guiding action. Furthermore, forward planning of action can play an important role not only in controlling our motor behaviour, but also in imitating and predicting the actions of others ? providing a crucial ?building block? for the development of social cognition. The applicants, collaborators within the Behavioural Brain Sciences Centre at the University of Birmingham, have established a critical mass of international expertise in the study of perception, action and social cognition ? from studies of on-line interaction between perception and action through to detailing the neural mechanisms involved in understanding the beliefs and future actions of others,
based for instance on what others feel, want or think. From May 2005, the Centre will have access to a research-dedicated 3T fMRI scanner, enabling the applicants to extend and complement their current research by including functional imaging methods. This application is for infrastructure posts for technical physics and radiography support, to enable a planned set of studies to be conducted on the perception-action cycle and its links to social cognition. The radiographer will provide training support to members of the collaborating teams, assist in protocol development and provide efficient processing and scanning of patients. The physicist is required to integrate experiments into the scanning environment, provide basic support and monitor quality control. These posts, combined with other positions provided by the University, will provide the core staff of the imaging centre, allowing collaborative research to develop quickly, adding value to other MRC-fuinded work within the group. Through its scientific emphasis, through its excellent access to neuropsychological patients, through the use of specialised procedures for measuring movement in the scanner, and through the promotion of combined procedures for neuroscientific measurement (fMRI and TMS, fMRI and ERP), the Centre will develop a unique identity at an international level, whilst serving as a regional Centre for supporting fMRI.


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Apperly IA (2009) Studies of adults can inform accounts of theory of mind development. in Developmental psychology

Description BBSRC Project Grant
Amount £400,000 (GBP)
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2009 
End 02/2012
Description ESRC, Project Grant
Amount £390,000 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2008 
End 09/2011
Description Leverhulme Trust Progject grant
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2010 
End 03/2012
Description SocCog 
Organisation University of Chicago
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Joint collaboration established with the University of Chicago with our group as the main initiator
Collaborator Contribution Joint contributions to a new series of experiments
Impact Joint meeting held in October 2009 and a follow-up conference in March 2010
Start Year 2009
Description ToM 
Organisation University of Nottingham
Department School of Psychology Nottingham
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Joint experiments designed and analysed
Collaborator Contribution A number of joint papers have been completed
Impact pub med 18633798 16781700 19210001
Start Year 2006
Description UIUC 
Organisation University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Department Psychology Department
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have planned joint experiments
Collaborator Contribution Given access to new facilities
Impact Data have been collected and are currently being written for publication
Start Year 2010
Description BBC news 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact BBC News article on our research

The work showed that music can affect attentional recovery after stroke and so had impact on the treatment of cognitive problems after stroke
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
Description General public visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Gave presentations to lay public and School visits on work on timing in group performance (e.g., dance), involving members of professional ballet companies

Impact on children choosing A levels
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009