Sensory-motor interactions in action execution

What made you grab that brand of soap?

Image from Pereda et. al., 2010

New Cognitive activity has been often described as a manipulation of abstract symbols that operates independently of “distal” sensory and motor processes, such as in the classic model of cognition referred to as “the computer metaphor”. However, early theoretical models such as those of James (1890) and Gibson (1970), already cast serious doubts a on this classic approach. During the last few decades, a huge bulk of empirical data has developed which strongly suggests a tight coupling between perception and action, for example, studies addressing stimulus-response compatibility, visuomotor priming and imitation effects. Moreover, the discovery of the mirror-neuron system (MNS) has provided some useful insights about the putative neural underpinnings for sensory-motor couplings. There is therefore evidence that visuomotor relations are pervasive in mental function, as suggested by different types of visuomotor priming and automatic imitation effects, but also that they might underlie some higher cognitive functions such as attention and social cognition. In this project we are mainly interested in how objects and movements towards objects contribute to visuomotor priming. Several studies have provided evidence of automatic sub-threshold activation of motor representations of observed movements. Edwards, Humphreys and Castiello (2002) provided evidence that the sole view of an object was enough to produce a facilitating effect on the movement towards that object (see also Tucker and Ellis, 1999). That leaves us with an evident question, what is the role of the movement itself in motor priming?  There is already evidence of different components present in visuomotor effects (e.g. Brass, Bekkering and Prinz, 2001). Thus, by using different objects that afford the same movement, it should be possible to provide evidence of an object component and a movement component in motor priming (see Pereda, Navarra and Soto-Faraco, 2011;  Pereda and Soto-Faraco, submitted).

Representative publications:

Pereda A, Navarra J, Soto-Faraco S.  2011.  Visuomotor interactions, mirror neurons and high-level cognitive processes. A brief review. Advances in Psychology Research . 64:75-98.

Pereda and Soto-Faraco (submitted). Priming choice behaviour by action observation and by action association.