Dynamic task observation: A gaze-mediated complement to traditional action observation treatment?

Behav Brain Res. 2020 Feb 3;379:112351. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2019.112351. Epub 2019 Nov 11.


Action observation elicits changes in primary motor cortex known as motor resonance, a phenomenon thought to underpin several functions, including our ability to understand and imitate others' actions. Motor resonance is modulated not only by the observer's motor expertise, but also their gaze behaviour. The aim of the present study was to investigate motor resonance and eye movements during observation of a dynamic goal-directed action, relative to an everyday one - a reach-grasp-lift (RGL) action, commonly used in action-observation-based neurorehabilitation protocols. Skilled and novice golfers watched videos of a golf swing and an RGL action as we recorded MEPs from three forearm muscles; gaze behaviour was concurrently monitored. Corticospinal excitability increased during golf swing observation, but it was not modulated by expertise, relative to baseline; no such changes were observed for the RGL task. MEP amplitudes were related to participants' gaze behaviour: in the RGL condition, target viewing was associated with lower MEP amplitudes; in the golf condition, MEP amplitudes were positively correlated with time spent looking at the effector or neighbouring regions. Viewing of a dynamic action such as the golf swing may enhance action observation treatment, especially when concurrent physical practice is not possible.

Keywords: Action observation; Dynamic action viewing; Eye movements; Motor resonance; Rehabilitation; Sport.