Motor interference in interactive contexts

Chinellato E., Castiello U., & Sartori L. (in press). Motor interference in interactive contexts. Frontiers in Psychology | Cognition


Action observation and execution share overlapping neural substrates, so that simultaneous activation by observation and execution modulates motor performance. Previous literature on simple prehension tasks has revealed that motor influence can be two-sided: facilitation for observed and performed congruent actions and interference for incongruent actions. But little is known of the specific modulations of motor performance in complex forms of interaction. Is it possible that the very same observed movement can lead either to interference or facilitation effects on a temporally overlapping congruent executed action, depending on the context? To answer this question participants were asked to perform a reach-to-grasp movement adopting a precision grip (PG) while: (i) observing a fixation cross, (ii) observing an actor performing a PG with interactive purposes, (iii) observing an actor performing a PG without interactive purposes. In particular, in the interactive condition the actor was shown trying to pour some sugar on a large cup located out of her reach but close to the participant watching the video, thus eliciting in reaction a complementary whole-hand grasp. Notably, fine-grained kinematic analysis for this condition revealed a specific delay in the grasping and reaching components and an increased trajectory deviation despite the observed and executed movement’s congruency. Moreover, early peaks of trajectory deviation seem to indicate that socially relevant stimuli are acknowledged by the motor system very early. These data suggest that interactive contexts can determine a prompt modulation of stimulus–response compatibility effects.

Keywords: Action observation, Interference effect, Movement kinematics, Complementary actions