Motor Imagery in Asperger Syndrome: Testing Action Simulation by the Hand Laterality Task

Massimiliano Conson, Elisabetta Mazzarella, Alessandro Frolli, Dalila Esposito, Nicoletta Marino, Luigi Trojano, Angelo Massagli, Giovanna Gison, Nellantonio Aprea, Dario Grossi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Asperger syndrome (AS) is a neurodevelopmental condition within the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) characterized by specific difficulties in social interaction, communication and behavioural control. In recent years, it has been suggested that ASD is related to a dysfunction of action simulation processes, but studies employing imitation or action observation tasks provided mixed results. Here, we addressed action simulation processes in adolescents with AS by means of a motor imagery task, the classical hand laterality task (to decide whether a rotated hand image is left or right); mental rotation of letters was also evaluated. As a specific marker of action simulation in hand rotation, we assessed the so-called biomechanical effect, that is the advantage for judging hand pictures showing physically comfortable versus physically awkward positions. We found the biomechanical effect in typically-developing participants but not in participants with AS. Overall performance on both hand laterality and letter rotation tasks, instead, did not differ in the two groups. These findings demonstrated a specific alteration of motor imagery skills in AS. We suggest that impaired mental simulation and imitation of goal-less movements in ASD could be related to shared cognitive mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere70734
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 23 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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