Antonella Tramacere’s work addresses the biological foundations of the social and cultural mind through the comparative analysis of the Mirror Neuron System (MNS). This is her starting point for inquiring human cognition from different angles: the coupling between perception and action in development, the evolution of manual, vocal and facial gesturing, and the role of shared physiological mechanisms in different types of social learning processes (such as mimicry or imitation), language and self-awareness.
Her research is highly integrative and interdisciplinary, and develops through close collaboration with various scientific research centers (i.e., Dep. of Neuroscience at Parma University/Italy, Lab of Symbolic Cognitive Development at Riken Brain Institute/Japan, Dep. of Psychology and Child Development in Reading/UK and Deutsches Primatenzentrum, Goettingen). By taking into account both biological substrates and socio-environmental influences, it makes use of a large amount of empirical studies (from system genetics to neuroscience and psychology), and integrates them into a coherent theoretical framework that can contribute to highlight important philosophical questions on human nature.
Finally, research on MNS in different primate species is also an occasion to problematize the relationship between human and non-human primates from an ethical perspective. By analyzing methods and limits of current research on functional and non-functional high cognitive abilities, she offers practical proposals for promoting primate experimentation in a more sustainable and ethical way.
Tramacere A., Pievani T. & Ferrari P.F. (2016) “Mirror neurons in the tree of life: mosaic evolution, plasticity and exaptation of sensorimotor matching responses” Biological Review.
Tramacere, A., & Moore, R. (2016) Reconsidering the role of manual imitation in language evolution. Topoi, 1-10.