Abstract

There is evidence that action observation (AO) and the processing of action-related words are associated with increased activity in cortical motor regions. Research has examined the effects of AO and action verb processing on activity in the motor system independently. The aim of this experiment was to investigate, for the first time, the modulation of corticospinal excitability and visual attention during the concurrent processing of action verbs and AO stimuli. Twenty participants took part in an integrated transcranial magnetic stimulation and eye-tracking protocol. Single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation was delivered to the hand representation of the left motor cortex during (i) observation of a static hand, (ii) AO of a hand squeezing a sponge, (iii) AO of the same action with an audio recording of the word “squeeze,” and (iv) AO of the same action with an audio recording of the word “green”. Motor evoked potentials were recorded from the abductor pollicis brevis and abductor digiti minimi muscles of the right hand. Eye gaze was recorded throughout the four conditions as a proxy for visual attention. Interviews were conducted to discuss participants' preferences and imagery use for each condition. The AO and action verb condition resulted in significantly increased motor evoked potential amplitudes in the abductor pollicis brevis muscle; participants also made significantly more fixations on the sponge and reported wanting to move their hand more in the action verb condition. The inclusion of auditory action verbs, alongside AO stimuli, in movement simulation interventions could have implications for the delivery of AO interventions for motor (re)learning.

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