Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

J Cogn Neurosci. 2009 Jun;21(6):1215-27. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2009.21068

Don't do it! Cortical inhibition and self-attribution during action observation

Numerous studies suggest that both self-generated and observed actions of others activate overlapping neural networks, implying a shared, agent-neutral representation of self and other. Contrary to the shared representation hypothesis, we recently showed that the human motor system is not neutral with respect to the agent of an observed action [Schütz-Bosbach, S., Mancini, B., Aglioti, S. M., & Haggard, P. Self and other in the human motor system. Current Biology, 16, 1830-1834, 2006]. Observation of actions attributed to another agent facilitated the motor system, whereas observation of identical actions linked to the self did not. Here we investigate whether the absence of motor facilitation for observing one's own actions reflects a specific process of cortical inhibition associated with self-representation. We analyzed the duration of the silent period induced by transcranial magnetic stimulation of the motor cortex in active muscles as an indicator of motor inhibition. We manipulated whether an observed action was attributed to another agent, or to the subjects themselves, using a manipulation of body ownership on the basis of the rubber hand illusion. Observation of actions linked to the self led to longer silent periods than observation of a static hand, but the opposite effect occurred when observing identical actions attributed to another agent. This finding suggests a specific inhibition of the motor system associated with self-representation. Cortical suppression for actions linked to the self might prevent inappropriate perseveration within the motor system.

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