Activation patterns during action observation are modulated by context in mirror system areas

Pascal Molenberghs, Lydia Hayward, Jason B. Mattingley, Ross Cunnington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


The role of the mirror system in action understanding has been widely debated. Some authors have suggested that the mirror system plays an important role in action understanding (Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia, 2010), whereas others have claimed that direct evidence to support this view is lacking (Hickok, 2009). If mirror neurons have an active role in action understanding rather than passive visuomotor transformation during action observation, they should respond differently to the observation of actions depending on the intentions of the observer. In this fMRI study, twenty participants observed identical actions under different instruction contexts. The task was either to understand the actions, identify the physical features of the actions, or passively observe the actions. A multi-voxel pattern analysis revealed unique patterns of activation in ventral premotor cortex and inferior parietal lobule across the different contexts. The results suggest that ventral premotor and inferior parietal areas respond differently to observed actions depending on the mindset of the observer. This is consistent with the view that these regions do not merely process observed actions passively, but play an active role in action understanding.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)608-615
Number of pages8
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • fMRI
  • perception of action
  • mirror system
  • action understanding
  • premotor cortex
  • inferior parietal lobule

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