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To Watch is to Work: a Review of NeuroImaging Data on Tool Use Observation Network

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Since the discovery of mirror neurons in the 1990s, many neuroimaging studies have tackled the issue of action observation with the aim of unravelling a putative homolog human system. However, these studies do not distinguish between non-tool-use versus tool-use actions, implying that a common brain network is systematically involved in the observation of any action. Here we provide evidence for a brain network dedicated to tool-use action observation, called the tool-use observation network, mostly situated in the left hemisphere, and distinct from the non-tool-use action observation network. Areas specific for tool-use action observation are the left cytoarchitectonic area PF within the left inferior parietal lobe and the left inferior frontal gyrus. The neural correlates associated with the observation of tool-use reported here offer new insights into the neurocognitive bases of action observation and tool use, as well as addressing more fundamental issues on the origins of specifically human phenomena such as cumulative technological evolution.

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Data Availability

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


  1. The term network used here must be understood as a collection of brain areas, with no assessment of the structural or functional connectivity that could exist between these areas.


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This work was supported by a grant from ANR (Agence Nationale pour la Recherche; Project “Cognition et économie liée à l’outil/Cognition and tool-use economy”, N°ANR-14-C230-0015-01), and was performed within the framework of the LABEX CORTEX (ANR-11-LABX-0042) of Université de Lyon, within the program “Investissements d’Avenir” (ANR-11-IDEX-0007) operated by the French National Research Agency (ANR).

Author Contribution Statement

E.R. and F.O. designed the study. E.R. and F.O. analyzed the data. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Emanuelle Reynaud.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary information accompanies this paper at XXXX.


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Reynaud, E., Navarro, J., Lesourd, M. et al. To Watch is to Work: a Review of NeuroImaging Data on Tool Use Observation Network. Neuropsychol Rev 29, 484–497 (2019).

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