Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Cereb Cortex. 2010 Nov;20(11):2511-21. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhp292. Epub 2010 Jan 4

Simulating the future of actions in the human corticospinal system

Perception of the final position of a moving object or creature is distorted forward along its actual or implied motion path, thus enabling anticipation of its forthcoming position. In a previous research, we demonstrated that viewing static snapshots that imply body actions activates the human motor system. What remains unknown, however, is whether extrapolation of dynamic information and motor activation are higher for upcoming than past action phases. By using single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation, we found that observation of start and middle phases of grasp and flick actions engendered a significantly higher motor facilitation than observing their final postures. Differential motor facilitation during start and end postures was independent of finger configuration at the different hand apertures. Subjective ratings showed that modulation of motor facilitation was not due to the amount of implied motion per se but to the forward direction of the motion path toward upcoming phases. Thus, motor facilitation proved maximal for the snapshots evoking ongoing but incomplete actions. The results provide compelling evidence that the frontal component of the observation-execution matching system is preferentially activated by the anticipatory simulation of future action phases and thus plays an important role in the predictive coding of others' motor behaviors.

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