Psychological Research

, Volume 75, Issue 2, pp 152–157 | Cite as

Does motor interference arise from mirror system activation? The effect of prior visuo-motor practice on automatic imitation

  • Rémi L. Capa
  • Peter J. Marshall
  • Thomas F. Shipley
  • Robin N. Salesse
  • Cédric A. Bouquet
Original Article


Action perception may involve a mirror-matching system, such that observed actions are mapped onto the observer’s own motor representations. The strength of such mirror system activation should depend on an individual’s experience with the observed action. The motor interference effect, where an observed action interferes with a concurrently executed incongruent action, is thought to arise from mirror system activation. However, this view was recently challenged. If motor interference arises from mirror system activation, this effect should be sensitive to prior sensorimotor experience with the observed action. To test this prediction, we measured motor interference in two groups of participants observing the same incongruent movements. One group had received brief visuo-motor practice with the observed incongruent action, but not the other group. Action observation induced a larger motor interference in participants who had practiced the observed action. This result thus supports a mirror system account of motor interference.


Video Sequence Baseline Condition Biological Motion Incongruent Condition Mirror System 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Blakemore, S., & Frith, C. (2005). The role of motor contagion in the prediction of action. Neuropsychologia, 43, 260–267.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bouquet, C. A., Gaurier, V., Shipley, T., Toussaint, L., & Blandin, Y. (2007). Influence of the perception of biological or non-biological motion on movement execution. Journal of Sports Sciences, 25, 519–530.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bouquet, C. A., Shipley, T. F., Capa, R. L., & Marshall, P. J. (2010). Motor contagion: Goal-directed actions are more contagious than non-goal-directed actions. Experimental Psychology (in press).Google Scholar
  4. Brass, M., Bekkering, H., & Prinz, W. (2001). Movement observation affects movement execution in a simple response task. Acta Psychologica, 106, 3–22.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Calvo-Merino, B., Glaser, D. E., Grèzes, J., Passingham, R. E., & Haggard, P. (2005). Action observation and acquired motor skills: An fMRI study with expert dancers. Cerebral Cortex, 15, 1243–1249.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Casile, A., & Giese, M. A. (2006). Nonvisual motor training influences biological motion perception. Current Biology, 16, 69–74.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Catmur, C., Walsh, V., & Heyes, C. (2007). Sensorimotor learning configures the human mirror system. Current Biology, 17, 1527–1531.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Cross, E. S., Hamilton, A. F. C., & Grafton, S. T. (2006). Building a motor simulation de novo: Observation of dance by dancers. Neuroimage, 31, 1257–1267.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Gates, D. H., & Dingwell, J. B. (2008). The effects of neuromuscular fatigue on task performance during repetitive goal-directed movements. Experimental Brain Research, 187, 573–585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gowen, E., Stanley, J., & Miall, R. C. (2008). Movement interference in autism-spectrum disorder. Neuropsychologia, 46, 1060–1068.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Heyes, C. (2001). Causes and consequences of imitation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 5, 253–261.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Heyes, C. M. (2010). Where do mirror neurons come from? Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 575–583.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Jansson, E., Wilson, A. D., Williams, J. H. G., & Mon-Williams, M. (2007). Methodological problems undermine tests of the ideo-motor conjecture. Experimental Brain Research, 182, 549–558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jeannerod, M. (2001). Neural simulation of action: A unifying mechanism for motor cognition. Neuroimage, 14, S103–S109.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Kilner, J., Hamilton, A. F. C., & Blakemore, S. J. (2007). Interference effect of observed human movement on action is due to velocity profile of biological motion. Social Neuroscience, 2, 158–166.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Kilner, J. M., Paulignan, Y., & Blakemore, S. J. (2003). An interference effect of observed biological movement on action. Current Biology, 13, 522–525.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Knoblich, G., & Flach, R. (2001). Predicting the effects of action: Interactions of perception and action. Psychological Science, 12, 467–472.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Marshall, P. J., Bouquet, C. A., Shipley, T. F., & Young, T. (2009). Effects of brief imitative experience on EEG desynchronization during action observation. Neuropsychologia, 47, 2100–2106.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Press, C., Bird, G., Flach, R., & Heyes, C. (2005). Robotic movement elicits automatic imitation. Cognitive Brain Research, 25, 632–640.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Press, C., Gillmeister, H., & Heyes, C. (2007). Sensorimotor experience enhances automatic imitation of robotic action. Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences, 274, 2509–2514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Prinz, W. (1997). Perception and action planning. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 9, 129–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Richardson, M. J., Campbell, W. L., & Schmidt, R. C. (2009). Movement interference during action observation as emergent coordination. Neuroscience Letters, 449, 117–122.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Rizzolatti, G., & Craighero, L. (2004). The mirror-neuron system. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 27, 169–192.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Stanley, J., Gowen, E., & Miall, R. C. (2007). Effects of agency on movement interference during observation of a moving dot stimulus. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 33, 915–926.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Wilson, M., & Knoblich, G. (2005). The case for motor involvement in perceiving conspecifics. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 460–473.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rémi L. Capa
    • 1
    • 3
  • Peter J. Marshall
    • 2
  • Thomas F. Shipley
    • 2
  • Robin N. Salesse
    • 1
  • Cédric A. Bouquet
    • 1
  1. 1.CeRCA, CNRSUniversity of PoitiersPoitiersFrance
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Cognitive SciencesUniversity of LiègeLiègeBelgium

Personalised recommendations