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PLoS One. 2013 Nov 20;8(11):e81197. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0081197. eCollection 2013.

Concatenation of observed grasp phases with observer's distal movements: a behavioural and TMS study.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, University of Parma, Parma, Italy.


The present study aimed at determining how actions executed by two conspecifics can be coordinated with each other, or more specifically, how the observation of different phases of a reaching-grasping action is temporary related to the execution of a movement of the observer. Participants observed postures of initial finger opening, maximal finger aperture, and final finger closing of grasp after observation of an initial hand posture. Then, they opened or closed their right thumb and index finger (experiments 1, 2 and 3). Response times decreased, whereas acceleration and velocity of actual finger movements increased when observing the two late phases of grasp. In addition, the results ruled out the possibility that this effect was due to salience of the visual stimulus when the hand was close to the target and confirmed an effect of even hand postures in addition to hand apparent motion due to the succession of initial hand posture and grasp phase. In experiments 4 and 5, the observation of grasp phases modulated even foot movements and pronunciation of syllables. Finally, in experiment 6, transcranial magnetic stimulation applied to primary motor cortex 300 ms post-stimulus induced an increase in hand motor evoked potentials of opponens pollicis muscle when observing the two late phases of grasp. These data suggest that the observation of grasp phases induced simulation which was stronger during observation of finger closing. This produced shorter response times, greater acceleration and velocity of the successive movement. In general, our data suggest best concatenation between two movements (one observed and the other executed) when the observed (and simulated) movement was to be accomplished. The mechanism joining the observation of a conspecific's action with our own movement may be precursor of social functions. It may be at the basis for interactions between conspecifics, and related to communication between individuals.

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