Short-term physical training enhances mirror system activation to action observation

Victoria E.A. Brunsdon, Elisabeth E.F. Bradford, Laura Smith, Heather J. Ferguson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
92 Downloads (Pure)


The mirroring of actions is performed by a specialized system of neurons found in the sensorimotor cortex, termed the mirror neuron system. This system is considered an important mechanism that facilitates social understanding. We present a pre-registered experiment that used EEG to investigate whether short-term training via physical rehearsal or observational learning elicit distinct changes in mirror neuron activity for unfamiliar hand actions, and whether these training effects are influenced by the degree of familiarity (i.e., the frequency of action repetitions during training). Sixty adults completed a pre- and post-training EEG action observation task. Half of the participants completed 30 min of execution training (i.e., observing and performing unfamiliar hand actions), and half completed observation-only training (i.e., observing unfamiliar hand actions being performed). Post-training familiarity was manipulated by varying the number of training repetitions for each hand action (from 0 to 50 repetitions). Results revealed that sensorimotor cortex activity to the observation of hand actions increased following execution training, but did not change when training was simply observational. Moreover, the frequency of training repetitions did not modulate sensorimotor cortex activation after training, suggesting that short-term physical rehearsal enhances general processes involved in action understanding, rather than specific motor representations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-107
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Neuroscience
Issue number1
Early online date30 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2019


  • action observation
  • EEG
  • mirror neurons
  • mu desynchronization
  • sensorimotor cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Development
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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