The role of selective attention in matching observed and executed actions

Chong, Trevor. T-J., Cunnington, Ross, Williams, Mark A. and Mattingley, Jason B. (2009) The role of selective attention in matching observed and executed actions. Neuropsychologia, 47 3: 786-795. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.12.008

Author Chong, Trevor. T-J.
Cunnington, Ross
Williams, Mark A.
Mattingley, Jason B.
Title The role of selective attention in matching observed and executed actions
Journal name Neuropsychologia   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0028-3932
Publication date 2009-02-01
Year available 2008
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.12.008
Open Access Status Not yet assessed
Volume 47
Issue 3
Start page 786
End page 795
Total pages 10
Editor A. R. Mayes
S. Bentin
Place of publication Oxford, United Kingdom
Publisher Pergamon Press
Language eng
Subject C1
170101 Biological Psychology (Neuropsychology, Psychopharmacology, Physiological Psychology)
970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and Cognitive Sciences
Abstract Substantial evidence suggests that observed actions can engage their corresponding motor representations within the observer. It is currently believed that this process of observation–execution matching occurs relatively automatically, without the need for top-down control. In this study we tested the susceptibility of the observation–execution matching process to selective attention. We used a Go/NoGo paradigm to investigate the phenomenon of ‘automatic imitation’, in which participants are faster to initiate a hand movement that is congruent with a concurrently observed action, relative to one that is incongruent. First, we replicated previous findings of automatic imitation, and excluded the possibility that spatial compatibility effects might explain these results (Experiment 1). We then presented participants with the same goal-directed actions while directing their attention to an imperative stimulus that spatially overlapped, but was distinct from, the observed actions (Experiment 2). Crucially, automatic imitation no longer occurred when participants directed their attention away from the displayed actions and towards the spatially overlapping stimulus. In a final experiment, we examined whether the automatic imitation of grasp persists when participants attend to an irrelevant feature of the observed action, such as whether it is performed by a left or right hand (Experiment 3). Here we found that automatic imitation is contingent on participants attending to the feature of the observed hand that was relevant to their responses. Together these findings demonstrate the importance of selective mechanisms in the filtering of task-irrelevant actions, and indicate a role for top-down control in limiting the motoric simulation of observed actions.
Keyword Action observation
Automatic imitation
Visuomotor priming
Mirror neuron system
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: 2009 Higher Education Research Data Collection
Queensland Brain Institute Publications
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Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 52 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
Scopus Citation Count Cited 53 times in Scopus Article | Citations
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Created: Fri, 24 Apr 2009, 22:48:25 EST by Debra McMurtrie on behalf of Queensland Brain Institute