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PLoS One. 2009;4(5):e5389. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005389. Epub 2009 May 6.

Observation of static pictures of dynamic actions enhances the activity of movement-related brain areas.

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Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy.



Physiological studies of perfectly still observers have shown interesting correlations between increasing effortfulness of observed actions and increases in heart and respiration rates. Not much is known about the cortical response induced by observing effortful actions. The aim of this study was to investigate the time course and neural correlates of perception of implied motion, by presenting 260 pictures of human actions differing in degrees of dynamism and muscular exertion. ERPs were recorded from 128 sites in young male and female adults engaged in a secondary perceptual task.


Our results indicate that even when the stimulus shows no explicit motion, observation of static photographs of human actions with implied motion produces a clear increase in cortical activation, manifest in a long-lasting positivity (LP) between 350-600 ms that is much greater to dynamic than less dynamic actions, especially in men. A swLORETA linear inverse solution computed on the dynamic-minus-static difference wave in the time window 380-430 ms showed that a series of regions was activated, including the right V5/MT, left EBA, left STS (BA38), left premotor (BA6) and motor (BA4) areas, cingulate and IF cortex.


Overall, the data suggest that corresponding mirror neurons respond more strongly to implied dynamic than to less dynamic actions. The sex difference might be partially cultural and reflect a preference of young adult males for highly dynamic actions depicting intense muscular activity, or a sporty context.

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