Foto del docente

Alessio Avenanti

Full Professor


Academic discipline: M-PSI/02 Psychobiology and Physiological Psychology

Director of Organisational Unit (UOS) Cesena of DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY "RENZO CANESTRARI"


Keywords: social, cognitive and affective neuroscience neural plasticity neurostimulation

I'm a Cognitive Neuroscientist and I'm pursuing my interests in the neural correlates of social cognition and intersubjectivity. My research is mainly focused on the understanding of how the brain represents the pain of others (empathy for pain) and ones' own and other's action (motor imagery and action observation). Moreover, I'm currently investigating the neural mechanisms underlying the perception and recognition of others' intentions and emotions. These issues are approached by using behavioral, neurophysiological (transcranial magnetic stimulation, TMS; somatosensory evoked potentials, SEPs; laser evoked potentials, LEPs) and neuroimaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI) methods in healthy subjects and neurological and psychiatric patients. Recently I've started studies investigating the plasticity of the motor system and testing the efficacy of non-invasive brain stimulation (TMS, transcranial direct current stimulation, tDCS) in the rehabilitation of stroke patients with motor and cognitive deficit.

My research is funded by national (Ministero della Salute, Ministero Istruzione Universita' e Ricerca, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Consorzio Inter-Universitario Italia-Argentina, Cassa di Risparmio di Cesena) and international (Cogito Foundation, CEI Campus Atlantico Tricontinental) funding agencies.


1) Empathy, emotions and bodily sensation;
2) Action perception and motor imagery;
3) Non-invasive brain stimulation and plasticity

1) Empathy, emotions and bodily sensations;
2) Action perception and motor imagery;
3) Non-invasive brain stimulation and plasticity;


1) Empathy, emotions and bodily sensations.
In a series of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), somatosensory evoked potentials (SEPs), laser-evoked potentials (LEPs) and functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) studies (Avenanti et al., 2005 Nat Neurosci; Avenanti et al., 2006 NeuroImage; Avenanti et al., 2009 Neuroimage; Avenanti et al., 2009 Cortex; Avenanti et al., 2010 Curr Biol; Azevedo et al., 2012 Hum Brain Mapp; Borgomaneri et al, in prep; Bufalari et al., 2007 Cerebr Cortex; Minio- Paluello et al., 2006 Soc Neurosci; Minio-Paluello et al., 2009 Biol Psychiatry; Valeriani et al., 2008 Neuroimage) I explored sensorimotor neural response to the observation of bodily sensation in others. These studies show that observing others' touch or pain induces the "resonant" activation of sensorimotor systems involved in the personal experience of touch and pain. Currently I'm particularly interested in exploring top-down and bottom-up factors purportedly able to modulate "resonant" neural responses induced by the observation of others' bodily sensations (stimulus- specific or instruction-specific factors, social group membership and race bias, personality, psychopatology, brain lesions, neuromodulation induced by TMS and drugs). Recently, we have started exploring the neural correlates of emotional body perception. We are investigating how the observers' sensorimotor system implements not only "resonant" activations but also motor reactions that are appropriate to the observed emotion (Borgomaneri et al., 2012 Brain Stimulation; Borgomaneri et al., 2014 Brain Structure and Function; Borgomaneri et al., in prep.).

This line of research is funded by grants from Ministero Istruzione Universita' e Ricerca (Futuro in Ricerca 2012, protocol number: RBFR12F0BD) and Cogito Foundation (Project 2014, research grant, protocol number: 14-139-R)


2) Action perception and motor imagery.
By means of novel "perturb and measure" neurophysiological paradigm combining single-pulse TMS (spTMS) and repetitive TMS (rTMS) I have investigated the response of somatomotor systems during the observation of others' actions (Avenanti et al., 2007 Curr Biol; Avenanti et al., 2012 Cereb Cortex). This way I explored the role of premotor, somatosensory and temporal areas in the internal simulation of observed actions (see also Avenanti et al., 2013 Hum Front Neurosci; Urgesi et al., 2010 Cereb Cortex). We have recently applied a combined TMS/tDCS "perturb-and-measure" paradigm also for investigating action processing within the peripersonal space (Avenanti et al., 2012 Neuroimage; see also Serino et al. 2009 PLoS ONE; Serino et al., 2011 J Cogn Neurosci). I used the "rubber hand illusion" and perspective-taking manipulations to explore how attribution of actions to ourselves or others affects motor reponse to the observation or imagination of those actions (Fourkas et al., 2006 Exp Brain Res; Fourkas et al 2008 Cereb Cortex; Schutz-Bosbach et al., 2009 J Cogn Neurosci). Another recent line of research investigates the role of premotor, parietal and temporal areas in the recognition of action goals and kinematics (Jacquet and Avenanti, 2013 Cereb Cortex), and deceptive actions and intentions (Tidoni et al., 2013 J Neurosci). Moreover, we are investigating the role of motor system in the perception of natural emotional scenes (Borgomaneri et al., 2012 Brain Stimulation; Borgomaneri et al., 2013 Soc Cogn Aff Neurosci; Borgomaneri et al., 2014 under review).

These lines of research are funded by the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (SEED 2009, protocol number: 21538) and Cogito foundation (Project 2013, research grant, protocol number: R-117/13).


3) Non-invasive brain stimulation and plasticity.
In a series of studies I'm evaluating the effectiveness of rehabilitation protocols in patients with brain lesions and motor deficits (Avenanti et al., 2012 Neurology; Avenanti et al., in prep). Behavioural and neurophysiological effects of single or multiple session of TMS and tDCS are evaluated. Moreover, I'm exploring the long-term effects of multiple session of treatments combining standard rehabilitation techniques with non-invasive stimulation of the cerebral cortex (TMS, tDCS) and novel stimulation paradigms to induce plastic changes of brain connectivity in healthy subjects and brain damage patients.

This line of research is funded by the Ministero della Salute (Bando giovani ricercatori 2010, protocol number: GR-2010-2319335) and Fondazione dal Monte di Bologna e Ravenna (reseach call 2017, protocol number: 299bis/17)


Key words:
Empathy; Perspective Taking; Simulation Theory; Personality; Race bias; Action understanding and action prediction; Motor Imagery; Agency and Body Ownership; Rubber hand illusion; Body Schema; Pain and tactile perception; Sensorimotor integration; Multisensory integration; Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) in Cognitive Neuroscience; Application of TMS and tDCS in the rehabilitation of stroke patients.



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, 570-80.

Avenanti A, Aglioti SM (2006). The sensorimotor side of empathy. In: Mancia M. (ed.) Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience. Milan: Springer-Verlag Italia, 235-256.

Avenanti A, Annella L, Serino A (2012). Suppression of premotor cortex disrupts motor coding of peripersonal space. Neuroimage 63, 281-288.

Avenanti A, Bolognini N, Maravita A, Aglioti SM (2007). Somatic and motor components of action simulation. Current Biology 17, 2129-2135. 

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.

Avenanti A, Candidi M, Urgesi C (2013). Vicarious motor activation during action perception: beyond correlational evidence. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7, 185. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00185

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.

Avenanti A, Minio-Paluello I, Bufalari I, Aglioti SM (2006). Stimulus-driven modulation of motor-evoked potentials during observation of others' pain. Neuroimage 32, 316-324.

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. 

Avenanti A, Minio-Paluello I, Sforza A, Aglioti SM (2009). Freezing or escaping? Opposite modulations of empathic reactivity to the pain of others. Cortex 45, 1072-1077.

Avenanti A, Sirigu A, Aglioti SM (2010). Racial bias reduces empathic sensorimotor resonance with other-race pain. Current Biology 20, 1018-1022.

Avenanti A, Urgesi C (2011). Understanding “what†others do: mirror mechanisms play a crucial role in action perception. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 6, 257-259.

Azevedo RT, Macaluso E, Avenanti A, Santangelo V, Cazzato V, Aglioti SM (2012). Their pain is not Our pain: Brain and autonomic correlates of empathic resonance with the pain of same and different race individuals. Human Brain Mapping, in press.

Bertini, C, Leo F, Avenanti A, Ladavas E (2010). Independent mechanisms for ventriloquism and multisensory integration as revealed by theta-burst stimulation. European Journal of Neuroscience 31 1791-1799.

Borgomaneri S, Gazzola V, Avenanti A (2012). Motor mapping of implied actions during perception of emotional body language. Brain Stimulation 5, 70-76.

Borgomaneri S, Gazzola V, Avenanti A (2013). Temporal dynamics of motor cortex excitability during perception of natural emotional scenes. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. Advance Access published September 12, 2013. doi: 10.1093/scan/nst139

Bufalari I, Aprile T, Avenanti A, Di Russo F, Aglioti SM (2007). Empathy for pain and touch in the human somatosensory cortex. Cerebral Cortex 17, 2553-2561. 

Fourkas AD, Avenanti A, Urgesi C, Aglioti SM (2006). Corticospinal facilitation during first and third person imagery. Experimental Brain Research 168, 143-151.

Fourkas AD, BonavolontÃÆ'  V, Avenanti A, Aglioti SM (2008). Kinaesthetic imagery and tool-specific modulation of corticospinal representations in expert tennis players. Cerebral Cortex 18, 2382-2390.

Jacquet PO, Avenanti A (2013). Perturbing the action observation network during perception and categorization of actions' goals and grips: state-dependency and virtual lesion TMS effects. Cereb Cortex. Advance Access published October 1, 2013. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht242

Minio-Paluello I, Avenanti A, Aglioti SM (2006). Left hemisphere dominance in reading the sensory qualities of others' pain? Social Neuroscience 1, 320-333.

Minio-Paluello I, Baron-Cohen S, Avenanti A, Walsh V, Aglioti SM (2009). Absence of embodied empathy during pain observation in Asperger Syndrome. Biological Psychiatry 65, 55-62. 

SchÃÆ'¼tz-Bosbach S, Avenanti A, Aglioti SM, Haggard P (2009). Don't do it! Cortical inhibition and self-attribution during action observation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 21, 1215-1227.

Serino A, Annella L, Avenanti A (2009). Motor properties of peripersonal space in humans. PLoS One 4, e6582.

Serino A, Canzoneri E, Avenanti A (2011). Fronto-parietal areas necessary for a multisensory representation of peripersonal space in humans: an rTMS study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience23, 2956-2967.

Tidoni E, Borgomaneri S, di Pellegrino G, Avenanti A (2013). Action simulation plays a critical role in deceptive action recognition. Journal of Neuroscience 33, 611-623.

Urgesi C, Avenanti A (2011). Functional and epiphenomenal modulation of neural activity in body selective visual areas. Cognitive Neuroscience 2, 212-214.

Urgesi C, Maieron M, Avenanti A, Fabbro F, Aglioti SM (2008). Anticipatory simulation of implied actions in the human motor system. Brain Stimulation 1, 253-254.

Urgesi C, Maieron M, Avenanti A, Tidoni E, Fabbro F, Aglioti SM (2010). Simulating the future of actions in the human corticospinal system. Cerebral Cortex, 20, 2511-2521.

Valeriani M, Betti V, Le Pera D, De Armas L, Miliucci R, Restuccia D, Avenanti A, Aglioti SM (2008). Seeing the pain of others while being in pain: a laser evoked potentials study. NeuroImage 40, 1419-1428.

Vicario CM, Kritikos A, Avenanti A, Rafal R (2013). Reward and punishment: investigating cortico-bulbar excitability to disclose the value of goods. Frontiers in Psychology 4:39. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00039