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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Motor cortical processing is causally involved in object recognition

Rebecca Decloe and Sukhvinder S Obhi*

Author Affiliations

Social Brain, Body & Action Lab, Department of Psychology & Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3C5, Canada

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BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:155  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-155

Published: 14 December 2013

Abstract

Background

Motor activity during vicarious experience of actions is a widely reported and studied phenomenon, and motor system activity also accompanies observation of graspable objects in the absence of any actions. Such motor activity is thought to reflect simulation of the observed action, or preparation to interact with the object, respectively.

Results

Here, in an initial exploratory study, we ask whether motor activity during observation of object directed actions is involved in processes related to recognition of the object after initial exposure. Single pulse Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) was applied over the thumb representation of the motor cortex, or over the vertex, during observation of a model thumb typing on a cell-phone, and performance on a phone recognition task at the end of the trial was assessed. Disrupting motor processing over the thumb representation 100 ms after the onset of the typing video impaired the ability to recognize the phone in the recognition test, whereas there was no such effect for TMS applied over the vertex and no TMS trials. Furthermore, this effect only manifested for videos observed from the first person perspective. In an additional control condition, there was no evidence for any effects of TMS to the thumb representation or vertex when observing and recognizing non-action related shape stimuli.

Conclusion

Overall, these data provide evidence that motor cortical processing during observation of object-directed actions from a first person perspective is causally linked to the formation of enduring representations of objects-of-action.