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Keywords:

  • action observation;
  • humans;
  • mirror system;
  • parietal lobe;
  • premotor cortex

Abstract

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to localize brain areas that were active during the observation of actions made by another individual. Object- and non-object-related actions made with different effectors (mouth, hand and foot) were presented. Observation of both object- and non-object-related actions determined a somatotopically organized activation of premotor cortex. The somatotopic pattern was similar to that of the classical motor cortex homunculus. During the observation of object-related actions, an activation, also somatotopically organized, was additionally found in the posterior parietal lobe. Thus, when individuals observe an action, an internal replica of that action is automatically generated in their premotor cortex. In the case of object-related actions, a further object-related analysis is performed in the parietal lobe, as if the subjects were indeed using those objects. These results bring the previous concept of an action observation/execution matching system (mirror system) into a broader perspective: this system is not restricted to the ventral premotor cortex, but involves several somatotopically organized motor circuits.