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PLoS One. 2014 Oct 1;9(10):e108628. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0108628. eCollection 2014.

The neural basis of mark making: a functional MRI study of drawing.

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Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.


Compared to most other forms of visually-guided motor activity, drawing is unique in that it "leaves a trail behind" in the form of the emanating image. We took advantage of an MRI-compatible drawing tablet in order to examine both the motor production and perceptual emanation of images. Subjects participated in a series of mark making tasks in which they were cued to draw geometric patterns on the tablet's surface. The critical comparison was between when visual feedback was displayed (image generation) versus when it was not (no image generation). This contrast revealed an occipito-parietal stream involved in motion-based perception of the emerging image, including areas V5/MT+, LO, V3A, and the posterior part of the intraparietal sulcus. Interestingly, when subjects passively viewed animations of visual patterns emerging on the projected surface, all of the sensorimotor network involved in drawing was strongly activated, with the exception of the primary motor cortex. These results argue that the origin of the human capacity to draw and write involves not only motor skills for tool use but also motor-sensory links between drawing movements and the visual images that emanate from them in real time.

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