Social Cognitive Neuroscience
Name: Alessio Avenanti
Position: Associate Professor
Primary affiliation: Department of Psychology, University of Bologna
More Affiliations: Centro studi e ricerche in Neuroscienze Cognitive (CsrCN), Cesena (see my CsrCN personal page) and IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia, Roma.
Postal address: Viale Berti Pichat 5, 40127 Bologna (Dept); Viale Europa 980, 47521 Cesena (CsrNC)
Voice: (+39) 0547 338951
Facsimile: (+39) 0547 338952
My research is mainly focused on the understanding of how the brain represents the thoughts, actions, emotions and bodily feelings of other individuals. In particular, I am interested in investigating the functional connectivity and the plasticity of neural networks involved in simulating and representing others' mental states and the causal link between target regions within such networks and social perception and behavior. These issues are approached by using behavioral and neurophysiological (TMS, tDCS and EEG) methods in healthy and neurological patients.
Key words: social cognition; simulation; empathy; action perception; personality; race bias; functional connectivity; causal methods; plasticity.
- 2007. European Diploma in Cognitive and Brain Science, Delmenhorst, Germany.
- 2007. PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience. Department of Psychology, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Italy.
- 2003. Degree in Experimental Psychology, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Italy.
Positions and Employment:
- 2014-to present. Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Bologna, Italy.
- 2012-to present. Research consultant, IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia, Rome, Italy.
- 2006-2014. Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Bologna, Italy.
- 2006-to present. Researcher, Centro studi e ricerche in Neuroscienze Cognitive, Cesena, Italy.
- 2003-2006. Research Fellow, IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia, Rome, Italy.
- 2003-2006. Research Fellow, Department of Psychology, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Italy.
- 2003. Research Fellow, Department of Neurological and Vision Sciences, University of Verona, Italy.
1) Sensorimotor side of empathy for pain
Empathy allows interindividual sharing not only of emotions but also of bodily sensations such as touch, itching or pain. The empathic experience of others’ pain relies upon both the sensory and affective components of the neural network (pain matrix) that is activated during the personal experience of pain. By using Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), electroencephalography (EEG) and behavioural methods in both normal subjects and brain damage patients, PhD student will investigate whether and how inferring the sensory properties of the pain of another person influences the somatomotor system of an onlooker. Special attention will be devoted to bottom-up and top-down factors capable of modulating the somatomotor response to the observation of others’ pain.
2) Sensory and motor underpinnings of action simulation
Viewing someone else’s movement triggers the activation of cortical circuits involved in performing the same action, a process that may be linked to the inner simulation of motor and sensory components of that action. However, information on the possible causative role of frontal and parietal nodes of the action resonance system in simulating motor and sensory aspects of perceived action is meagre. By combining repetitive and single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation PhD student will explore the neural underpinnings of action mental simulation with both correlational and causative (virtual lesion) approaches.
1. Borgomaneri S, Vitale F, Gazzola V, Avenanti A (2015). Seeing fearful body language rapidly freezes the observer's motor cortex. Cortex 65, 232-245.
2. Jacquet PO, Avenanti A (2015). Perturbing the action observation network during perception and categorization of actions' goals and grips: state-dependency and virtual lesion TMS effects. Cerebral Cortex 9, 1451-1457.
3. Borgomaneri S, Gazzola V, Avenanti A (2014). Temporal dynamics of motor cortex excitability during perception of natural emotional scenes. Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 9, 1451-1457.
4. Tidoni E, Borgomaneri S, di Pellegrino G, Avenanti A (2013). Action simulation plays a critical role in deceptive action recognition. The Journal of Neuroscience 33, 611-623.
5. Avenanti A, Annella L, Candidi M, Urgesi C, Aglioti SM (2013). Compensatory plasticity in the action observation network: virtual lesions of STS enhance anticipatory simulation of seen actions. Cerebral Cortex 23, 570-580.
6. Avenanti A, Coccia M, Ladavas E, Provinciali L, Ceravolo MG (2012). Low-frequency rTMS promotes use-dependent motor plasticity in chronic stroke: a randomized trial. Neurology 78, 256-264.
7. Avenanti A, Sirigu A, Aglioti SM (2010). Racial bias reduces empathic sensorimotor resonance with other-race pain. Current Biology 20, 1018-1022.
8. Avenanti A, Minio-Paluello I, Bufalari I, Aglioti SM (2009). The pain of a model in the personality of an onlooker: influence of state-reactivity and personality traits on embodied empathy for pain. Neuroimage 44, 275-283.
9. Avenanti A, Bolognini N, Maravita A, Aglioti SM (2007). Somatic and motor components of action simulation. Current Biology 17, 2129-2135.
10. Avenanti A, Bueti D, Galati G, Aglioti SM (2005). Transcranial magnetic stimulation highlights the sensorimotor side of empathy for pain. Nature Neuroscience 8, 955-960.1.