To Watch is to Work: a Review of NeuroImaging Data on Tool Use Observation Network

Neuropsychol Rev. 2019 Dec;29(4):484-497. doi: 10.1007/s11065-019-09418-3. Epub 2019 Oct 29.


Since the discovery of mirror neurons in the 1990s, many neuroimaging studies have tackled the issue of action observation with the aim of unravelling a putative homolog human system. However, these studies do not distinguish between non-tool-use versus tool-use actions, implying that a common brain network is systematically involved in the observation of any action. Here we provide evidence for a brain network dedicated to tool-use action observation, called the tool-use observation network, mostly situated in the left hemisphere, and distinct from the non-tool-use action observation network. Areas specific for tool-use action observation are the left cytoarchitectonic area PF within the left inferior parietal lobe and the left inferior frontal gyrus. The neural correlates associated with the observation of tool-use reported here offer new insights into the neurocognitive bases of action observation and tool use, as well as addressing more fundamental issues on the origins of specifically human phenomena such as cumulative technological evolution.

Keywords: Action observation; Left inferior parietal cortex; Meta-analysis; Tool use.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Mirror Neurons / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Tool Use Behavior*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*