Beyond Motor Scheme: A Supramodal Distributed Representation in the Action-Observation Network

Emiliano Ricciardi, Giacomo Handjaras, Daniela Bonino, Tomaso Vecchi, Luciano Fadiga, Pietro Pietrini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The representation of actions within the action-observation network is thought to rely on a distributed functional organization. Furthermore, recent findings indicate that the action-observation network encodes not merely the observed motor act, but rather a representation that is independent from a specific sensory modality or sensory experience. In the present study, we wished to determine to what extent this distributed and 'more abstract' representation of action is truly supramodal, i.e. shares a common coding across sensory modalities. To this aim, a pattern recognition approach was employed to analyze neural responses in sighted and congenitally blind subjects during visual and/or auditory presentation of hand-made actions. Multivoxel pattern analyses-based classifiers discriminated action from non-action stimuli across sensory conditions (visual and auditory) and experimental groups (blind and sighted). Moreover, these classifiers labeled as 'action' the pattern of neural responses evoked during actual motor execution. Interestingly, discriminative information for the action/non action classification was located in a bilateral, but left-prevalent, network that strongly overlaps with brain regions known to form the action-observation network and the human mirror system. The ability to identify action features with a multivoxel pattern analyses-based classifier in both sighted and blind individuals and independently from the sensory modality conveying the stimuli clearly supports the hypothesis of a supramodal, distributed functional representation of actions, mainly within the action-observation network.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere58632
JournalPLoS One
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 5 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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