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Exp Brain Res. 2008 Aug;189(2):221-8. doi: 10.1007/s00221-008-1416-7. Epub 2008 May 21.

Observation of static gestures influences speech production.

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Department of Psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON N2L3C5, Canada.


Research investigating 'mirror neurons' has demonstrated the presence of an observation-execution matching system in humans. One hypothesized role for this system might be to aid in action understanding by encoding the underlying intentions of the actor. To investigate this hypothesis, we asked participants to observe photographs of an actor making orofacial gestures (implying verbal or non-verbal acts), and to produce syllables that were compatible or incompatible with the gesture they observed. We predicted that if mirror neurons encode the intentions of an actor, then the pictures implying verbal gestures would affect speech production, whereas the non-verbal gestures would not. Our results showed that the observation of compatible verbal gestures facilitated verbal responses, while incompatible verbal gestures caused interference. Although this compatibility effect did not reach statistical significance when the photographs implied a non-verbal act, responses were faster on average when the gesture implied the use of similar articulators as those involved with the production of the target syllable. Altogether, these behavioral findings compliment previous neuroimaging studies indicating that static pictures portraying gestures activate brain regions associated with an observation-execution matching system.

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