Motor imagery and visual event recognition

Claudio De'Sperati, Natale Stucchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In order to investigate the influence of covert motor processes in the recognition of visual events, we compared the response times (RT) in two similar tasks, one involving a to-be-grasped object and the other involving a to-be-observed object. In one task, we asked right-handed subjects to tell whether an observed screwdriver presented in different orientations and rotating on its main axis was screwing or unscrewing (screwdriver task). In the other task the visual stimuli were precisely the same, but subjects had to think of the screwdriver as being the pivot pin of an imagined clock, turning its hands from the back (clock task). They had to tell whether the imagined clock hands were moving clockwise or counterclockwise. In the screwdriver task, a prominent right-left asymmetry consisting of higher RTs for stimulus orientations awkward for a right-hand grip was present, suggesting that subjects adopted a strategy based upon mentally simulating the grabbing of the screwdriver handle with the dominant hand. Consistent with the hypothesis that the crucial factor that triggers these motor imagery processes is the 'graspability' of the relevant object in the scene, in the clock task the right-left asymmetry disappeared in most subjects, RTs mirroring the symmetry of the visual stimuli. These findings indicate that, when interpreting a scene involving a to-be-grasped object, a strategy based upon motor imagery (mental grasping), probably unfolding procedural knowledge, is activated. When the scene involves a to-be-observed object, the recognition task can be accomplished through other, possibly visual, strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-278
Number of pages6
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2000



  • Action-perception
  • Grasping
  • Human
  • Motor imagery
  • Right-left asymmetry
  • Tool use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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