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Curr Biol. 2003 Mar 18;13(6):522-5.

An interference effect of observed biological movement on action.

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Institut des Sciences Cognitives, 67 Boulevard Pinel, Bron 69675, France.


It has been proposed that actions are intrinsically linked to perception and that imagining, observing, preparing, or in any way representing an action excites the motor programs used to execute that same action. There is neurophysiological evidence that certain brain regions involved in executing actions are activated by the mere observation of action (the so-called "mirror system;" ). However, it is unknown whether this mirror system causes interference between observed and simultaneously executed movements. In this study we test the hypothesis that, because of the overlap between action observation and execution, observed actions should interfere with incongruous executed actions. Subjects made arm movements while observing either a robot or another human making the same or qualitatively different arm movements. Variance in the executed movement was measured as an index of interference to the movement. The results demonstrate that observing another human making incongruent movements has a significant interference effect on executed movements. However, we found no evidence that this interference effect occurred when subjects observed a robotic arm making incongruent movements. These results suggest that the simultaneous activation of the overlapping neural networks that process movement observation and execution infers a measurable cost to motor control.

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