One's motor performance predictably modulates the understanding of others' actions through adaptation of premotor visuo-motor neurons

Luigi Cattaneo, Guido Barchiesi, Davide Tabarelli, Carola Arfeller, Marc Sato, Arthur Glenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

56 Scopus citations

Abstract

Neurons firing both during self and other's motor behavior (mirror neurons) have been described in the brain of vertebrates including humans. The activation of somatic motor programs driven by perceived behavior has been taken as evidence for mirror neurons' contribution to cognition. The inverse relation, that is the influence of motor behavior on perception, is needed for demonstrating the long-hypothesized causal role of mirror neurons in action understanding. We provide here conclusive behavioral and neurophysiological evidence for that causal role by means of cross-modal adaptation coupled with a novel transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)-adaptation paradigm. Blindfolded repeated motor performance of an object-directed action (push or pull) induced in healthy participants a strong visual after-effect when categorizing others' actions, as a result of motor-to-visual adaptation of visuo-motor neurons. TMS over the ventral premotor cortex, but not over the primary motor cortex, suppressed the after-effect, thus localizing the population of adapted visuo-motor neurons in the premotor cortex. These data are exquisitely consistent in humans with the existence of premotor mirror neurons that have access to the action meaning. We also show that controlled manipulation of the firing properties of this neural population produces strong predictable changes in the way we categorize others' actions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbernsq099
Pages (from-to)301-310
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Volume6
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2011

Keywords

  • Action understanding
  • Adaptation
  • Cross-modal adaptation
  • Mirror neurons
  • Premotor cortex
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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