I know what I will see: action-specific motor preparation activity in a passive observation task


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Abstract

Literature on mirror neurons has shown that seeing someone preparing to move generates in the motor areas of the observers a brain activity similar to that generated when the subject prepares his own actions. Thus, the ‘mirroring’ of action would not be limited to the execution phase but also involves the preparation process. Here we confirm and extend this notion showing that, just as different brain activities prepare different voluntary actions, also different brain activities prepare to observe different predictable actions. Videos of two different actions from egocentric point of view were presented in separate blocks: (i) grasping of a cup and (ii) impossible grasping of a cup. Subjects had to passively observe the videos showing object-directed hand movements. Through the use of the event-related potentials, we found a cortical activity before observing the actions, which was very similar to the one recorded prior to the actual execution of that same action, in terms of both topography and latency. This anticipatory activity does not represent a general preparation state but an action-specific state, because being dependent on the specific meaning of the forthcoming action. These results reinforce our knowledge about the correspondence between action, perception and cognition.

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