Observation of a finger or an object movement primes imitative responses differentially

M. Jonas, K. Biermann-Ruben, K. Kessler, R. Lange, T. Bäumer, H.R. Siebner, A. Schnitzler, A. Münchau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Behavioural advantages for imitation of human movements over movements instructed by other visual stimuli are attributed to an ‘action observation-execution matching’ (AOEM) mechanism. Here, we demonstrate that priming/exogenous cueing with a videotaped finger movement stimulus (S1) produces specific congruency effects in reaction times (RTs) of imitative responses to a target movement (S2) at defined stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs). When contrasted with a moving object at an SOA of 533 ms, only a human movement is capable of inducing an effect reminiscent of ‘inhibition of return’ (IOR), i.e. a significant advantage for imitation of a subsequent incongruent as compared to a congruent movement. When responses are primed by a finger movement at SOAs of 533 and 1,200 ms, inhibition of congruent or facilitation of incongruent responses, respectively, is stronger as compared to priming by a moving object. This pattern does not depend on whether S2 presents a finger movement or a moving object, thus effects cannot be attributed to visual similarity between S1 and S2. We propose that, whereas both priming by a finger movement and a moving object induces processes of spatial orienting, solely observation of a human movement activates AOEM. Thus, S1 immediately elicits an imitative response tendency. As an overt imitation of S1 is inadequate in the present setting, the response is inhibited which, in turn, modulates congruency effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-265
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
Early online date31 Aug 2006
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • action observation-execution matching
  • human body movement
  • imitation
  • inhibition of return
  • mirror neuron system


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