Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 225, Issue 2, pp 261–275 | Cite as

To eat or not to eat? Kinematics and muscle activity of reach-to-grasp movements are influenced by the action goal, but observers do not detect these differences

  • Katherine R. Naish
  • Arran T. Reader
  • Carmel Houston-Price
  • Andrew J. Bremner
  • Nicholas P. Holmes
Research Article


Recent evidence suggests that the mirror neuron system responds to the goals of actions, even when the end of the movement is hidden from view. To investigate whether this predictive ability might be based on the detection of early differences between actions with different outcomes, we used electromyography (EMG) and motion tracking to assess whether two actions with different goals (grasp to eat and grasp to place) differed from each other in their initial reaching phases. In a second experiment, we then tested whether observers could detect early differences and predict the outcome of these movements, based on seeing only part of the actions. Experiment 1 revealed early kinematic differences between the two movements, with grasp-to-eat movements characterised by an earlier peak acceleration, and different grasp position, compared to grasp-to-place movements. There were also significant differences in forearm muscle activity in the reaching phase of the two actions. The behavioural data arising from Experiments 2a and 2b indicated that observers are not able to predict whether an object is going to be brought to the mouth or placed until after the grasp has been completed. This suggests that the early kinematic differences are either not visible to observers, or that they are not used to predict the end-goals of actions. These data are discussed in the context of the mirror neuron system.


Reach to grasp Kinematics Electromyography Action prediction Movement planning Pre-grasp 

Supplementary material

221_2012_3367_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (101 kb)
Online Resource 1. Component loadings of temporal kinematic variables for the pre-grasp movement. Supplementary material 1 (PDF 100 kb)
221_2012_3367_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (95 kb)
Online Resource 2. Component loadings of spatial kinematic variables for the pre-grasp movement. Supplementary material 2 (PDF 94 kb)
221_2012_3367_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (113 kb)
Online Resource 3. Component loadings of all kinematic variables for the (post-) grasp-to-place movement. Supplementary material 3 (PDF 113 kb)
221_2012_3367_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (110 kb)
Online Resource 4. Component loadings of all kinematic variables for the (post-) grasp-to-eat movement. Supplementary material 4 (PDF 109 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine R. Naish
    • 1
    • 2
  • Arran T. Reader
    • 1
  • Carmel Houston-Price
    • 1
  • Andrew J. Bremner
    • 3
  • Nicholas P. Holmes
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Psychology and Clinical Language SciencesUniversity of ReadingReadingUK
  2. 2.Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and NeurodynamicsUniversity of ReadingReadingUK
  3. 3.Department of Psychology, GoldsmithsUniversity of LondonLondonUK

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