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Neuroimage. 2009 Jul 1;46(3):844-53. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.03.002. Epub 2009 Mar 10.

Visual features of an observed agent do not modulate human brain activity during action observation.

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Section on Experimental MR of the CNS, Department of Neuroradiology, University of Tuebingen, Germany.


Recent neuroimaging evidence in macaques has shown that the neural system underlying the observation of hand actions performed by others (i.e., "action observation system") is modulated by whether the observed action is performed by a person in full view or an isolated hand (i.e., type of view manipulation). Although a human homologue of such circuit has been identified, whether in humans the neural processes involved in this capacity are modulated by the type of view remains unknown. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate whether the "action observation system", with specific reference to the ventral premotor cortex, responds differentially depending on type of view. We also tested this manipulation within regions of the human brain showing overlapping activity for both the observation and the execution of action ("mirror" regions). To this end, the same subjects were requested to observe grasping actions performed under the two types of view (observation conditions) or to perform a grasping action (execution condition). Results from whole-brain analyses indicate that overlapping activity for action observation and execution was evident in a broad network of areas including parietal, premotor and temporal cortices. Activity within such network was evident for both the observation of a person in full view or an isolated hand, but it was not modulated by the type of view. Similarly, results from region of interest (ROI) analyses, performed within the ventral premotor cortex, did confirm that this area responded in a similar fashion following the observation of either an isolated hand or an entire model acting. These findings offer novel insights on what the "action observation" and the "mirror" systems visually code and how the processing underlying such coding may vary across species. Further, they support the hypothesis that action goal is amongst the main determinants for the revelation of action observation activity, and to the existence of a broad system involved in the simulation of action.

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