The contribution of brain sub-cortical loops in the expression and acquisition of action understanding abilities

Daniele Caligiore, Giovanni Pezzulo, R. Chris Miall, Gianluca Baldassarre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)
241 Downloads (Pure)


Research on action understanding in cognitive neuroscience has led to the identification of a wide “action understanding network” mainly encompassing parietal and premotor cortical areas. Within this cortical network mirror neurons are critically involved implementing a neural mechanism according to which, during action understanding, observed actions are reflected in the motor patterns for the same actions of the observer. We suggest that focusing only on cortical areas and processes could be too restrictive to explain important facets of action understanding regarding, for example, the influence of the observer's motor experience, the multiple levels at which an observed action can be understood, and the acquisition of action understanding ability. In this respect, we propose that aside from the cortical action understanding network, sub-cortical processes pivoting on cerebellar and basal ganglia cortical loops could crucially support both the expression and the acquisition of action understanding abilities. Within the paper we will discuss how this extended view can overcome some limitations of the “pure” cortical perspective, supporting new theoretical predictions on the brain mechanisms underlying action understanding that could be tested by future empirical investigations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2504-2515
JournalNeuroscience and biobehavioral reviews
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • Psychology
  • Neuroscience
  • Mirror neurons
  • Action understanding
  • Sub-cortical processes
  • Cerebellar cortical loops
  • Basal ganglia cortical loops
  • Forward models
  • Inverse models


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