Current Studies

    From Sensory-Motor to Social in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

    Children with ASD often have both motor and sensory deficits in addition to the social deficits that are the hallmark of the disorder. However the neurological basis of how those sensorimotor deficits relate to the core social deficits is poorly understood. Here we compare motor deficits in ASD to motor deficits in Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD). Similarly, we compare sensory deficits in ASD to sensory deficits in Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). In this way, we hope to better understand the relationship between sensory-motor processing to social deficits in ASD. This work is supported by an NIH R01 grant.

    Feelings of morality are related to disgust processing and influence the intensity of moral evaluations. However, in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), differences in disgust processing can contribute to different behavioral responses. Here, we compare how embodied feelings of disgust affect moral reasoning in autistic and non-autistic children. Additionally, we explore how individual differences in sensory sensitivity modulate embodied feelings of moral disgust. This project will enable an improved scientific understanding of the connection between disgust processing and moral reasoning in autistic and non-autistic children and lay the foundation for more targeted therapies.

    Relationship between the Gut Microbiome, the Brain, and Behavior

    The gut has three times more neurons than the spinal cord, and most of those connections send information from the gut to the brain. Much of the signaling in the gut comes from metabolites produced by the gut microbiome. However the relationship between the gut microbiome, the brain, and behavior is poorly understood. Here we try to better understand this relationship in both typically developing individuals as well as individuals with ASD. This work is supported by a grant from the Department of Defense.

    Otherness and Belonging

    Belonging is a fundamental relationship grounded in the interaction between an organism and its world. It is always a multi-directional relation where the world includes the social, physical, emotional, and cultural environment available to the organism. For human beings, belonging is a critical factor both in the creation and in the perception of meaning in life. It is just as important as food or water for our survival and well-being. A lack of belonging is an existential breakage in a human being’s relationship to their environment and to the world and is a fundamental human need (Maslow, 1943). From an evolutionary perspective, the predisposition to belong is central to human existence and culture. Personality traits that motivate individuals to gain acceptance and avoid rejection are indispensable tools enabling survival and reproduction. The goal of the current project is to understand the basic science underlying human need and the multiple dimensions of belonging, and to provide data on bridging strategies that mitigate the feeling of otherness. Data generated by this project will inform intervention strategies. It is a collaboration between the USC CeNEC lab, the UC Berkeley Othering and Belonging Institute, and Google.

    Embodied Semantics and Communication

    Most of our metaphors are embodied: we “handle” situations; we “kick-off” a new year; we “chew over” decisions. Using fMRI and behavioral studies we explore how language processing involves sensorimotor brain representations. We investigate both literal and metaphorical language. This work has been funded by IARPA and NIH.

    Past Studies

      The mirror neuron system post-stroke:

      How might we use our knowledge of the mirror neuron system to help motor recovery post-stroke? In a series of studies funded by the NIH, the American Heart Association, and the Dana Foundation, we explore how the mirror neuron system may be utilized for stroke neurorehabilitation. These studies use MRI, fMRI and behavioral data.

      Peer Reviewed Articles


      • Loureiro F, Ringold SM, Aziz-Zadeh L. Interoception in Autism: A Narrative Review of Behavioral and Neurobiological Data. Psychol Res Behav Manag. 2024;17:1841-1853
      • Shipkova, M., Butera, C. D., Flores, G. D., Kilroy, E., Jayashankar, A., Harrison, L., … & Aziz‐Zadeh, L. (2024). Caregiver and youth inter‐rater assessment agreement in autism spectrum disorder, developmental coordination disorder, and typical development. Autism Research.


      • Jayashankar, A., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2023). Disgust Processing and Potential Relationships with Behaviors in Autism. Current Psychiatry Reports
      • Raman, N., Ringold, S. M., Jayashankar, A., Butera, C. D., Kilroy, E., Harrison, L., & Cermak, S. A.(2023). Relationships between Affect Recognition, Empathy, Alexithymia, and Co-Occurring Conditions in Autism. Brain Sciences, 13(8), 1161.
      • Frederick, R., Dolgin, E., Blustein, D., Guerrero, F. J., Aziz-Zadeh, L., Sutherland, S., Fieseler, C., Alex, B., & Case, E. (2023). Summer reading 2023. Science.
      • Miller, H. L., Licari, M. K., Bhat, A., Aziz-Zadeh, L. S., Van Damme, T., Fears, N. E., Cermak, S. A., & Tamplain, P. M. (2023). Motor problems in autism: Co-occurrence or feature?. Developmental medicine and child neurology, 10.1111/dmcn.15674. Advance online publication.
      • Jayashankar, A., Bynum, B., Butera, C., Kilroy, E., Harrison, L., Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2023). Connectivity differences between inferior frontal gyrus and mentalizing network in autism as compared to developmental coordination disorder and non-autistic youth. Cortex, 0010-9452.
      • Butera, C., Kaplan, J., Kilroy, E., Harrison, L., Jayashankar, A., Loureiro, F., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2023). The relationship between alexithymia, interoception, and neural functional connectivity during facial expression processing in autism spectrum disorder. Neuropsychologia, 108469.


      • Ringold, S. M., McGuire, R. W., Jayashankar, A., Kilroy, E., Butera, C. D., Harrison, L., Cermak, S. A., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2022). Sensory Modulation in Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder Compared to Autism Spectrum Disorder and Typically Developing Children. Brain sciences, 12(9), 1171.
      • Abrams, G., Jayashankar, A., Kilroy, E. et al., Butera, C., Harrison, L., Ring, P., Houssain, A., Nalbach, A., Cermak, S. A., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2022). Differences in Praxis Errors in Autism Spectrum Disorder Compared to Developmental Coordination Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord.
      • Kilroy, E., Gerbella, M., Cao, L., Molfese, P., Butera, C., Harrison, L., Jayashankar, A., Rizzolatti, G., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2022). Specific tractography differences in autism compared to developmental coordination disorder. Scientific Reports, 12, 19246.
      • Butera, C. D., Harrison, L., Kilroy, E., Jayashankar, A., Shipkova, M., Pruyser, A., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2022). Relationships between alexithymia, interoception, and emotional empathy in autism spectrum disorder. Autism.
      • Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2022). Summer book review: Existential Physics. Science.
      • Kilroy, E., Ring, P., Hossain, A., Nalbach, A., Butera, C., Harrison, L., Jayashankar, A., Vigen, C., Aziz-Zadeh, L. & Cermak, S. A. (2022). Motor performance, praxis, and social skills in autism spectrum disorder and developmental coordination disorder. Autism Research.
      • Borelli, E., Butera, C., Katirai, A., Adams, T. C., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2022). Impact of motor stroke on novel and conventional action metaphor comprehension. Brain and Language, 226, 105081.


      • Chernikova, M. A., Flores, G. D., Kilroy, E., Labus, J. S., Mayer, E. A., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2021). The brain-gut-microbiome system: pathways and implications for autism spectrum disorder. Nutrients, 13(12), 4497.
      • Harrison, L. A., Kats, A., Kilroy, E., Butera, C., Jayashankar, A., Keles, U., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2021). Motor and sensory features successfully decode autism spectrum disorder and combine with the original RDoC framework to boost diagnostic classification. Scientific reports, 11(1), 1-16.
      • Kilroy, E., Harrison, L., Butera, C., Jayashankar, A., Cermak, S., Kaplan, J., Williams, M., Haranin, E., Bookheimer, S., Dapretto, M. & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2021). Unique deficit in embodied simulation in autism: An fMRI study comparing autism and developmental coordination disorder. Human brain mapping, 42(5), 1532-1546.


      • Butera, C., Ring, P., Sideris, J., Jayashankar, A., Kilroy, E., Harrison, L., Cermak, S., & Aziz‐Zadeh, L. (2020). Impact of sensory processing on school performance outcomes in high functioning individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Mind, Brain, and Education, 14(3), 243–254.


      • Kilroy, E., Cermak, S.A., Aziz-Zadeh L. (2019). A review of functional and structural neurobiology of the action observation network in autism spectrum disorder and developmental coordination disorder. Brain Sciences, 9(4), 75.
      • Kilroy, E., Aziz-Zadeh, L. & Cermak, SA. (2019). Ayres theories of autism and sensory integration revisited: What contemporary neuroscience has to say. Brain Sciences, 9(3).
      • Harrison L.A., Kats A., Williams M.E., & Aziz-Zadeh L. (2019). The importance of sensory processing in mental health: A proposed addition to the research domain criteria (RDoC) and suggestions for RDoC 2.0. Frontiers in Psychology, 10.


      • Aziz-Zadeh, L., Kilroy, E., & Corcelli, G. (2018). Understanding activation patterns in shared circuits: Toward a value driven model. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12.
      • Liew, S.-L., Garrison, K., Ito, K., Heydari, P., Sobhani, M., Werner, J., Damasio, H., Winstein, C.J., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2018). Laterality of post-stroke cortical motor activity during action observation is related to hemispheric dominance. Neural Plasticity.
      • Liew, S.L., Anglin, J., Bank,N., Sondag, M., Ito, K., Kim, H., Chan, J., Ito, J., Jung, C., Khoshab, N., Lefebvre, S., Nakamura, W., Saldana, D., Schmiesing, A., Tran, C., Vo, D., Ard, T., Heydari, P., Kim, B., Aziz-Zadeh, L., Cramer, S., Liu, J., Soekadar, S., Nordvik, J., Westlye, L., Wang, J., Winstein, C., Yu, C., Ai, L., Koo, B., Craddock, C., Milham, M., Lakich, M., Pienta, A., Stroud, A. (2018). A large, open source dataset of stroke anatomical brain images and manual lesion segmentations. Scientific Data, 5(1), 1-11.



      • Reynolds, J., Licari, M., Billington, J., Chen, Y., Aziz-Zadeh, L., Werner, J., Winsor, A.M., & Bynevel, M. (2015). Developmental dyspraxia and the mirror system: an fMRI study. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience. doi: 10.1016/j.ijdevneu.2015.10.003
      • Garrison, K.A., Rogalsky, C., Sheng, T., Liu, B., Damasio, H., Winstein, CJ, & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2015). Functional MRI preprocessing in lesioned brains: Manual versus automated region of interest analysis. Frontiers in Neurology, 6.
      • Sobhani, M. , Baker, L., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2015). Psychopathic traits modulate microstructural integrity of right uncinate faciculus. NeuroImage: Clinical, 8, 32-38.


      • Demiris, Y., Aziz-Zadeh, L., & Bonaiuto, J. (2014). Information processing in the mirror neuron system in primates and machines. Neuroinformatics, 12(1), 63-91.
      • Liew, S.-L., Sheng, T., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2013). Both novelty and expertise increase action observation network activity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7.


      • Fox, G., Sobhani, M., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2013). Witnessing hateful people in pain modulates brain activity in regions associated with physical pain and reward. Frontiers Psychology, 4.
      • Garrison, K., Aziz-Zadeh, L., Wong, S., & Winstein, C.J. (2013). Modulating the motor system by action observation after stroke. Stroke; a Journal of Cerebral Circulation, 44(8), 2247-2253.  (Both Aziz-Zadeh and Winstein were equal senior authors on this manuscript; K.G. was co-mentored.)
      • Liew, S.-L., Sheng, T., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2013). Experience with an amputee modulates one’s own sensorimotor response during action observation. NeuroImage, 69.
      • Aziz-Zadeh, L., Liew, S.L., & Dandekar, F. (2013). Exploring the neural correlates of visual creativity. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8(4).
      • Demiris, Y., Aziz-Zadeh, L., & Bonaiuto, J. (2013). Information processing in the mirror neuron system in primates and machines. Neuroinformatics [epub ahead of print].
      • Garrison, K., Aziz-Zadeh, L., Wong, S., & Winstein, C.J. (2013). Modulating the motor system by action observation after stroke. Stroke, 44, 2247-2253.


      • Aziz-Zadeh, L., Sheng, T., Liew, S.-L., & Damasio, H. (2012). Understanding otherness: The neural bases of action comprehension and pain empathy in a congenital amputee. Cerebral Cortex, 22(4).
      • Sobhani, M., Fox, G.R., Kaplan, J., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2012). Interpersonal liking modulates Motor-Related Neural Regions. PLoS ONE, 7(10), e46809.
      • Werner, J., Cermak, S., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2012). Neural correlates of developmental coordination disorder: The mirror neuron system hypothesis. Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, 2(2), 258-268.


      • Liew, S.-L., Garrison, K., Werner, J., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2011). The mirror neuron system: Innovations and implications for occupational therapy. OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health.
      • Sobhani, M. & Bechara, A. (2011). A Somatic Marker Perspective of Immoral and Corrupt Behavior. Social Neuroscience, 6(5-6), 640.
      • Liew, S.-L. & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2011). The neuroscience of language and action in occupations: A review of findings from brain and behavioral sciences. Journal of Occupational Science, 18(2), 97-114.
      • Liew, S.-L., Ma, Y.,Han, S., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2011). Who’s afraid of the boss: Cultural differences in social hierarchies modulate self-face recognition in Chinese and Americans. PLoS ONE, 6(2).
      • Liew, S.-L., Han, S., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2011). Familiarity modulates mirror neuron and mentalizing regions during intention understanding. Human Brain Mapping, 32(11).


      • Landau, A., Aziz-Zadeh, L., & Ivry, R. (2010). The influence of language on perception: Listening to sentences about faces affects the perception of faces. Journal of Neuroscience, 30(45), 15254-15261.
      • Sheng, T., Gheytanchi, A., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2010). Default network deactivations are correlated with psychopathic personality traits. PLoS ONE, 5(9), e12611.
      • Aziz-Zadeh L., Sheng T., & Gheytanchi A. (2010). Common premotor regions for the Perception and production of prosody and correlations with empathy and prosodic ability. PLoS ONE, 5(1), e8759.
      • Garrison, K., Winstein, C., Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2010). The mirror neuron system: A neural substrate for methods in stroke rehabilitation. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, 24(5).


      • Aziz-Zadeh, L., Kaplan, J. T., & Iacoboni, M. (2009). “Aha!”: The neural correlates of verbal insight solutions. Human Brain Mapping, 30(3), 908–916.


      • Kaplan, J.T., Aziz-Zadeh, L., Uddin, L., & Iacoboni, M. (2008). The self across the senses: An fMRI study of self-face and self-voice recognition. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 3(3), 218-223.
      • Aziz-Zadeh, L., & Damasio, A. (2008). Embodied semantics for actions: Findings from functional brain imaging. Journal of Physiology, Paris, 102(1–3), 35–39.
      • Aziz-Zadeh, L., Fiebach, C. J., Naranayan, S., Feldman, J., Dodge, E., & Ivry, R. B. (2008). Modulation of the FFA and PPA by language related to faces and places. Social Neuroscience, 3(3–4), 229–238.


      • Aziz-Zadeh, L., Wilson, S., Rizzolatti, G., & Iacoboni, M. (2006). A comparison of premotor areas activated by action observation and action phrases. Current Biology. 16(18): 1818-23. [pdf | sup]
      • Gazzola V., Aziz-Zadeh L., & Keysers C. (2006). Empathy and the Somatotopic Auditory Mirror system in Humans. Current Biology, 16(18), 1824 – 1829. [pdf]
      • Aziz-Zadeh, L., Koski, L., Zaidel, E., Mazziotta, J., & Iacoboni, M. (2006). Author response to “Mirror neurons and the lateralization of language”. Journal of Neuroscience. 26(25): 6666-6667s.
      • Aziz-Zadeh, L., Koski, L., Zaidel, E., Mazziotta, J., & Iacoboni, M. (2006). Lateralization of the Human Mirror Neuron System. Journal of Neuroscience, 26(11), 2964-2970. [pdf]
      • Aziz-Zadeh, L., Iacoboni, M., & Zaidel, E. (2006). Hemispheric sensitivity to body stimuli in simple reaction time. Experimental Brain Research, 170(1), 116-121.  [pdf]


      • Aziz-Zadeh, L., Cattaneo, L., Rochat, M., & Rizzolatti, G. (2005). Covert speech arrest induced by rTMS over both motor and nonmotor left hemisphere frontal sites. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 17(6), 928–938.


      • Aziz-Zadeh, L., Iacoboni, M., Zaidel, E., Wilson, S., & Mazziotta, J. (2004). Lateralization in motor facilitation during hearing of action sounds. European Journal of Neuroscience 19(9):2609-2612. [pdf]


      • Aziz-Zadeh, L., Maeda, F., Zaidel, E., Mazziotta, J., & Iacoboni, M. (2002). Lateralization in motor facilitation during action observation: A TMS study. Experimental Brain Research, 144(1), 127-31. [pdf]


      Book Chapters


      • Butera, C. & Aziz-Zadeh. L. (2021). Mirror neurons and social implications for the classroom. In Macrine, S.L & Fugate, J.B. (Eds.), Movement Matters: How Embodied Cognition Informs Teaching and Learning. (Chapter 17). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


      • Gamez-Djokic, V., Molnar- Szakacs, & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2015). Embodied Simulation: Building Meaning Through Shared Neural Circuitry. In Y. Coello (Eds.), Foundations of Embodied Cognition.


      • Liew, S.-L. & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2012). The mirror neuron system, social control, and language. In Franks, D. & Turner, J.T. (Eds.), Handbook of Neurosociology.


      • Liew, S.-L. & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (2011). The mirror neuron system and social cognition. In Ebstein, Shamay-Tsoory, & Chew (Eds.), From DNA to Social Cognition (1st ed.).


      • Grafton, S.T., Aziz-Zadeh, L., & Ivry, R.B. (2009). Relative hierarchies and the representation of action. In Gazzaniga, M. (Eds.), The Cognitive Neurosciences (5th ed., pp. 641-655). MIT Press.


      • Aziz-Zadeh, L. & Ivry, R. (2008). Action representation and the mirror neuron system. In Sternad & D. Springer (Eds.), Progress in Motor Control: A Multidisciplinary Perspective. New York.

      Contact Us

      Brain and Creativity Institute

      3620A McClintock Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90089-2921

      Center for the Neuroscience of Embodied Cognition

      3620A McClintock Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90089-2921