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Front Psychol. 2011 Jan 27;1:243. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00243. eCollection 2010.

Deriving motor primitives through action segmentation.

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School of Humanities and Informatics, University of Skövde Skövde, Sweden.


The purpose of the present experiment is to further understand the effect of levels of processing (top-down vs. bottom-up) on the perception of movement kinematics and primitives for grasping actions in order to gain insight into possible primitives used by the mirror system. In the present study, we investigated the potential of identifying such primitives using an action segmentation task. Specifically, we investigated whether or not segmentation was driven primarily by the kinematics of the action, as opposed to high-level top-down information about the action and the object used in the action. Participants in the experiment were shown 12 point-light movies of object-centered hand/arm actions that were either presented in their canonical orientation together with the object in question (top-down condition) or upside down (inverted) without information about the object (bottom-up condition). The results show that (1) despite impaired high-level action recognition for the inverted actions participants were able to reliably segment the actions according to lower-level kinematic variables, (2) segmentation behavior in both groups was significantly related to the kinematic variables of change in direction, velocity, and acceleration of the wrist (thumb and finger tips) for most of the included actions. This indicates that top-down activation of an action representation leads to similar segmentation behavior for hand/arm actions compared to bottom-up, or local, visual processing when performing a fairly unconstrained segmentation task. Motor primitives as parts of more complex actions may therefore be reliably derived through visual segmentation based on movement kinematics.


action recognition; action representation; biological motion; event segmentation; mirror neurons; motor cognition; motor primitives; point-light displays

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