Stimulation over primary motor cortex during action observation impairs effector recognition Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Recent work suggests that motor cortical processing during action observation plays a role in later recognition of the object involved in the action. Here, we investigated whether recognition of the effector making an action is also impaired when transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) - thought to interfere with normal cortical activity - is applied over the primary motor cortex (M1) during action observation. In two experiments, single-pulse TMS was delivered over the hand area of M1 while participants watched short clips of hand actions. Participants were then asked whether an image (experiment 1) or a video (experiment 2) of a hand presented later in the trial was the same or different to the hand in the preceding video. In Experiment 1, we found that participants' ability to recognise static images of hands was significantly impaired when TMS was delivered over M1 during action observation, compared to when no TMS was delivered, or when stimulation was applied over the vertex. Conversely, stimulation over M1 did not affect recognition of dot configurations, or recognition of hands that were previously presented as static images (rather than action movie clips) with no object. In Experiment 2, we found that effector recognition was impaired when stimulation was applied part way through (300ms) and at the end (500ms) of the action observation period, indicating that 200ms of action-viewing following stimulation was not long enough to form a new representation that could be used for later recognition. The findings of both experiments suggest that interfering with cortical motor activity during action observation impairs subsequent recognition of the effector involved in the action, which complements previous findings of motor system involvement in object memory. This work provides some of the first evidence that motor processing during action observation is involved in forming representations of the effector that are useful beyond the action observation period.

publication date

  • April 2016