Brain and Action Lab

Associate Professor Ross Cunnington, PhD
Queensland Brain Institute and School of Psychology
The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

About the Lab

We are a cognitive neuroscience research group in the Queensland Brain Insitute and School of Psychology at the University of Queensland. Our research focuses on the brain processes involved in the planning and preparation for action and in the perception and imitation of others' actions. We use functional MRI brain imaging and EEG event-related potential methods to examine human brain activity and to understand the brain processes involved in action, perception and cognition.

Research Themes

Whenever we plan, imagine, or observe someone else performing an action, our own motor system responsible for representing and executing the action are also involved. The higher motor areas, the supplementary motor area and premotor cortex, are thought to play an important role in planning and maintaining readiness for action prior to movement initiation. The inferior parietal cortex and premotor cortex are key parts of a "mirror neuron" system that is thought to link the visual processing of observed actions and the motor system, important for understanding and imitating others' actions.

Research in the lab focuses on the brain processes crucial for planning and representing actions prior to initiation, for imitating actions, and for perceiving and understanding the actions of others.

Ross at TEDxBrisbane 2011

Major Projects

Attention and the readiness for action
Activity of premotor and supplementary motor areas begins up to two seconds prior to voluntary movement. We are examining the cognitive and "intentional" processes that precede the initiation of voluntary movement, in readiness for action.

Perception and Imitation of others' actions
The human mirror system is thought to provide a mechanism for directly matching observed actions to equivalent motor representations in the motor system, linking visual and motor areas. We are examining how the observation of others' actions can influence our own motor system and our performance of movement, and how our own plans for action can influence our visual processing and perception of others' actions.

Research Facilities

Functional MRI
We use the new 3 Tesla Siemens human MRI scanner of the UQ Centre for Advanced Imaging, on the University of Queensland campus at St Lucia. This system is specifically set up for human cognitive neuroscience research and includes facilities for visual projection and eye-tracking, concurrent EEG measurement, and infrared motion capture for hand actions.

EEG and Event-Related Potentials
We have two BioSemi EEG systems (128- and 64-channel) for direct measurement of brain activity in the lab. We also have a Brain Products MR system (64-channel) for concurrent EEG measurement inside the MRI scanner.