Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Neuroscience. 2016 Jan 14;318:104-113. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2016.01.023. [Epub ahead of print]

Electrocortical signatures of detecting errors in the actions of others: An EEG study in pianists, non-pianist musicians and musically naïve people

Detecting others' action errors plays a critical role in social life. Studies indicate that executing action errors and observing other's errors activate a specific cerebral system specialized for performance monitoring and detecting mismatches between an internal model of the action and the executed/observed one. Such a system may be particularly important for highly skilled performance. By recording electro-encephalographic (EEG) activity in expert pianists, non-pianist musicians and musically naïve individuals while they observed correct or incorrect mute piano sequences, we explored the link between sensorimotor expertise, the ability to detect another's erroneous action (indexed by positivity error, Pe) and action simulation (indexed by mu frequency suppression). Superior error detection in pianists was paralleled by a larger Pe, hinting at the selective activation of the parietal error-monitoring system in visuo-motor experts. Moreover, only in pianists did action observation induce left lateralized mu suppression in the 10-12Hz band, reflecting somatotopic sensorimotor simulation. A mediation analysis showed that mu suppression and performance (indexed by d') were mediated by Pe amplitude, indicating that the higher the simulation, the higher the sensitivity to errors for large Pe amplitude. This study shows that specific electrocortical indices link motor simulation and detection of errors in the actions of others.

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