Neural correlates of action: Comparing meta-analyses of imagery, observation, and execution

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2018 Nov:94:31-44. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.08.003. Epub 2018 Aug 9.


Several models propose Motor Imagery, Action Observation, and Movement Execution recruit the same brain regions. There is, however, no quantitative synthesis of the literature that directly compares their respective networks. Here we summarized data from neuroimaging experiments examining Motor Imagery (303 experiments, 4902 participants), Action Observation (595 experiments, 11,032 participants), and related control tasks involving Movement Execution (142 experiments, 2302 participants). Comparisons across these networks showed that Motor Imagery and Action Observation recruited similar premotor-parietal cortical networks. However, while Motor Imagery recruited a similar subcortical network to Movement Execution, Action Observation did not consistently recruit any subcortical areas. These data quantify and amend previous models of the similarities in the networks for Motor Imagery, Action Observation, and Movement Execution, while highlighting key differences in their recruitment of motor cortex, parietal cortex, and subcortical structures.

Keywords: Action observation; Action observation system; Action simulation; Mental imagery; Mirror neurons movement control; Motor control; Motor imagery; Motor simulation; Movement execution.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Neuroimaging