Mental simulation of drawing actions enhances delayed recall of a complex figure

Natascia de Lucia, Luigi Trojano, Vincenzo Paolo Senese, Massimiliano Conson

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Motor simulation implies that the same motor representations involved in action execution are re-enacted during observation or imagery of actions. Neurofunctional data suggested that observation of letters or abstract paintings can elicit simulation of writing or drawing gestures. We performed four behavioural experiments on right-handed healthy participants to test whether observation of a static and complex geometrical figure implies re-enactment of drawing actions. In Experiment 1, participants had to observe the stimulus without explicit instruction (observation-only condition), while performing irrelevant finger tapping (motor dual task), or while articulating irrelevant verbal material (verbal dual task). Delayed drawing of the stimulus was less accurate in the motor dual-task (interfering with simulation of hand actions) than in verbal dual-task and observation-only conditions. In Experiment 2, delayed drawing in the observation only was as accurate as when participants encoded the stimulus by copying it; in both conditions, accuracy was higher than when participants were instructed to observe the stimulus to recall it later verbally (observe to recall), thus being discouraged from engaging motor simulation. In Experiment 3, delayed drawing was as accurate in the observation-only condition as when participants imagined copying the stimulus; accuracy in both conditions was higher than in the observe-to-recall condition. In Experiment 4, in the observe-only condition participants who observed the stimulus with their right arm hidden behind their back were significantly less accurate than participants who had their left arm hidden. These findings converge in suggesting that mere observation of a geometrical stimulus can activate motor simulation and re-enactment of drawing actions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Drawing, copying
  • Motor imagery
  • Motor simulation
  • Rey–Osterrieth complex figure
  • Static image
  • Visuospatial memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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