Dynamic modulation of human motor activity when observing actions

Clare Press, Jennifer Cook, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, James Kilner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Citations (Scopus)


Previous studies have demonstrated that when we observe somebody else executing an action many areas of our own motor systems are active. It has been argued that these motor activations are evidence that we motorically simulate observed actions; this motoric simulation may support various functions such as imitation and action understanding. However, whether motoric simulation is indeed the function of motor activations during action observation is controversial, due to inconsistency in findings. Previous studies have demonstrated dynamic modulations in motor activity when we execute actions. Therefore, if we do motorically simulate observed actions, our motor systems should also be modulated dynamically, and in a corresponding fashion, during action observation. Using magnetoencephalography, we recorded the cortical activity of human participants while they observed actions performed by another person. Here, we show that activity in the human motor system is indeed modulated dynamically during action observation. The finding that activity in the motor system is modulated dynamically when observing actions can explain why studies of action observation using functional magnetic resonance imaging have reported conflicting results, and is consistent with the hypothesis that we motorically simulate observed actions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2792-800
Number of pages9
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2011


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior
  • Male
  • Movement
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Somatosensory Cortex
  • Visual Perception
  • Young Adult


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