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Biol Lett. 2012 Apr 23;8(2):193-6. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0759. Epub 2011 Sep 21.

The transfer of motor functional strategies via action observation.

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Dipartimento di Psicologia Generale, University of Padua, Padua, Italy.


When someone is choosing one piece from a bowl full of fruit, many pieces are within reach and visible. Although the desired piece seems to govern the particular pattern and direction of that person's reaching movement, the selection process is not impervious to the presence of task-irrelevant information (i.e. the other fruits). Evidence suggests that the kinematics of reach-to-grasp actions for a desired object integrates the motor features of all the objects which might become potential targets. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) were used by us to establish if that motor integration process can be transferred to an onlooker. Our results indicate that observation of hybrid reach-to-grasp movement kinematics is reflected in the observer's pattern of MEP amplitudes. This effect can be defined as a form of motor resonance which operates by 'reading' the kinematics of an observed action. The brain's ability to mirror motor integration processes while observing someone else's action helps an onlooker to understand what the other person is doing and to predict his/her motor alternatives.

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