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Neuroimage. 2006 May 15;31(1):429-39. Epub 2006 Jan 10.

Neural circuits involved in imitation and perspective-taking.

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Social Cognitive Neuroscience-Institute for Leaning and Brain Science, Box 357988, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-7988, USA.


Is it important to adopt the perspective of the model when learning a new skill? Is the "mirror system" equally involved when the teacher is facing or side-by-side with students? In this functional MRI study, we measured the cerebral hemodynamic changes in participants who watched video-clips depicting simple hand or foot actions. The participants either watched passively or imitated these actions. Half the video-clips depicted actions filmed from the perspective of the participant (1st-person perspective) and half from a frontal view as if watching someone else (3rd-person perspective). Behavioral results showed that latency to imitate was significantly shorter for the 1st-person perspective than the 3rd-person perspective. Functional imaging results demonstrate that the observation of intransitive actions engaged primary visual and extrastriate visual areas, but not the premotor cortex. Imitation vs. observation of actions yielded enhanced signal in the contralateral somatosensory and motor cortices, cerebellum, left inferior parietal lobule and superior parietal cortex, and left ventral premotor cortex. Activity in the lateral occipital cortex around the extrastriate body area was significantly enhanced during imitation, as compared to observation of actions confirming that this region involvement reaches beyond the perception of body parts. Moreover, comparisons of the two visual perspectives showed more activity in the left sensory-motor cortex for 1st-person, even during observation alone, and in the lingual gyrus for 3rd-person perspective. These findings suggest that the 1st-person perspective is more tightly coupled to the sensory-motor system than the 3rd-person perspective, which requires additional visuospatial transformation.

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