University of Limerick
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Mapping relational links between motor imagery, action observation, action-related language, and action execution

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-12-12, 10:03 authored by Helen O'Shea

Actions can be physically executed, observed, imagined, or simply thought about. Unifying mental processes, such as simulation, emulation, or predictive processing, are thought to underlie different action types, whether they are mental states, as in the case of motor imagery and action observation, or involve physical execution. While overlapping brain activity is typically observed across different actions which indicates commonalities, research interest is also concerned with investigating the distinct functional components of these action types. Unfortunately, untangling subtleties associated with the neurocognitive bases of different action types is a complex endeavour due to the high dimensional nature of their neural substrate (e.g., any action process is likely to activate multiple brain regions thereby having multiple dimensions to consider when comparing across them). This has impeded progress in action-related theorising and application. The present study addresses this challenge by using the novel approach of multidimensional modeling to reduce the high-dimensional neural substrate of four action-related behaviours (motor imagery, action observation, action-related language, and action execution), find the least number of dimensions that distinguish or relate these action types, and characterise their neurocognitive relational links. Data for the model comprised brain activations for action types from whole-brain analyses reported in 53 published articles. Eighty-two dimensions (i.e., 82 brain regions) for the action types were reduced to a three-dimensional model, that mapped action types in ordination space where the greater the distance between the action types, the more dissimilar they are. A series of one-way ANOVAs and post-hoc comparisons performed on the mean coordinates for each action type in the model showed that across all action types, action execution and concurrent action observation (AO)-motor imagery (MI) were most neurocognitively similar, while action execution and AO were most dissimilar. Most action types were similar on at least one neurocognitive dimension, the exception to this being action-related language. The import of the findings are discussed in terms of future research and implications for application. 



Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 16, 984053


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