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Cereb Cortex. 2015 Dec;25(12):4799-811. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhv167. Epub 2015 Jul 24.

Additive Routes to Action Learning: Layering Experience Shapes Engagement of the Action Observation Network.

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Wales Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience, School of Psychology, Bangor University, Bangor, UK.
Wales Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience, School of Psychology, Bangor University, Bangor, UK Department of Social and Cultural Psychology, Behavioural Science Institute, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


The way in which we perceive others in action is biased by one's prior experience with an observed action. For example, we can have auditory, visual, or motor experience with actions we observe others perform. How action experience via 1, 2, or all 3 of these modalities shapes action perception remains unclear. Here, we combine pre- and post-training functional magnetic resonance imaging measures with a dance training manipulation to address how building experience (from auditory to audiovisual to audiovisual plus motor) with a complex action shapes subsequent action perception. Results indicate that layering experience across these 3 modalities activates a number of sensorimotor cortical regions associated with the action observation network (AON) in such a way that the more modalities through which one experiences an action, the greater the response is within these AON regions during action perception. Moreover, a correlation between left premotor activity and participants' scores for reproducing an action suggests that the better an observer can perform an observed action, the stronger the neural response is. The findings suggest that the number of modalities through which an observer experiences an action impacts AON activity additively, and that premotor cortical activity might serve as an index of embodiment during action observation.


action observation network; dance; motor learning; parietal; premotor; training

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