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Sensorimotor cortex activation during anticipation of upcoming predictable but not unpredictable actions

Krol, Manon A.; Schutter, Dennis J. L. G.; Jellema, Tjeerd


Manon A. Krol

Dennis J. L. G. Schutter


The mirror neuron system (MNS) becomes active during action execution and action observation, which is presumably reflected by reductions in mu (8–13 Hz) activity in the electroencephalogram over the sensorimotor cortex. The function of the MNS is still fiercely debated. The current study aimed to investigate a role of the MNS in anticipating others’ actions by examining whether the MNS was activated–indexed by mu power suppression–prior to the onset of observed actions when the onset and type of action could be predicted on the basis of environmental cues. Young adults performed and observed cued grasping and placing actions in a card game in a real-life setting, while the predictability of the observed actions was manipulated using rules. Significant mu suppression, relative to within-trial baseline activity, was found both prior to and during executed actions, but also during action observation, and, crucially, prior to observed actions provided they were predictable. No anticipatory mu reductions were found prior to unpredictable observed actions. These results suggest top-down modulation of MNS activity by conceptual knowledge. This is the first study to demonstrate mu suppression prior to action onset–possibly reflecting MNS anticipatory activity–by explicitly manipulating predictability.


Krol, M. A., Schutter, D. J. L. G., & Jellema, T. (2020). Sensorimotor cortex activation during anticipation of upcoming predictable but not unpredictable actions. Social Neuroscience, 15(2), 214-226.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 7, 2019
Online Publication Date Oct 9, 2019
Publication Date Mar 3, 2020
Deposit Date Jan 29, 2021
Journal Social Neuroscience
Print ISSN 1747-0919
Electronic ISSN 1747-0927
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 15
Issue 2
Pages 214-226
Keywords Action observation; EEG; Mirror neuron system; Mu rhythm; Prediction
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Peer Review Statement: The publishing and review policy for this title is described in its Aims & Scope.; Aim & Scope:; Received: 2019-03-04; Revised: 2019-09-13; Published: 2019-10-09