Human motor cortex excitability during the perception of others' action

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2005 Apr;15(2):213-8. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2005.03.013.


Neuroscience research during the past ten years has fundamentally changed the traditional view of the motor system. In monkeys, the finding that premotor neurons also discharge during visual stimulation (visuomotor neurons) raises new hypotheses about the putative role played by motor representations in perceptual functions. Among visuomotor neurons, mirror neurons might be involved in understanding the actions of others and might, therefore, be crucial in interindividual communication. Functional brain imaging studies enabled us to localize the human mirror system, but the demonstration that the motor cortex dynamically replicates the observed actions, as if they were executed by the observer, can only be given by fast and focal measurements of cortical activity. Transcranial magnetic stimulation enables us to instantaneously estimate corticospinal excitability, and has been used to study the human mirror system at work during the perception of actions performed by other individuals. In the past ten years several TMS experiments have been performed investigating the involvement of motor system during others' action observation. Results suggest that when we observe another individual acting we strongly 'resonate' with his or her action. In other words, our motor system simulates underthreshold the observed action in a strictly congruent fashion. The involved muscles are the same as those used in the observed action and their activation is temporally strictly coupled with the dynamics of the observed action.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Speech Perception / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*