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Nature. 2003 Aug 14;424(6950):769-71.

Action plans used in action observation.

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Department of Psychology and Centre for Neuroscience Studies, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6, Canada.


How do we understand the actions of others? According to the direct matching hypothesis, action understanding results from a mechanism that maps an observed action onto motor representations of that action. Although supported by neurophysiological and brain-imaging studies, direct evidence for this hypothesis is sparse. In visually guided actions, task-specific proactive eye movements are crucial for planning and control. Because the eyes are free to move when observing such actions, the direct matching hypothesis predicts that subjects should produce eye movements similar to those produced when they perform the tasks. If an observer analyses action through purely visual means, however, eye movements will be linked reactively to the observed action. Here we show that when subjects observe a block stacking task, the coordination between their gaze and the actor's hand is predictive, rather than reactive, and is highly similar to the gaze-hand coordination when they perform the task themselves. These results indicate that during action observation subjects implement eye motor programs directed by motor representations of manual actions and thus provide strong evidence for the direct matching hypothesis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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