Spatial frequency tuning of motor responses reveals differential contribution of dorsal and ventral systems to action comprehension

Lucia Amoruso, Alessandra Finisguerra, Cosimo Urgesi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding object-directed actions performed by others is central to everyday life. This ability is thought to rely on the interaction between the dorsal action observation network (AON) and a ventral object recognition pathway. On this view, the AON would encode action kinematics, and the ventral pathway, the most likely intention afforded by the objects. However, experimental evidence supporting this model is still scarce. Here, we aimed to disentangle the contribution of dorsal vs. ventral pathways to action comprehension by exploiting their differential tuning to low-spatial frequencies (LSFs) and high-spatial frequencies (HSFs). We filtered naturalistic action images to contain only LSF or HSF and measured behavioral performance and corticospinal excitability (CSE) using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Actions were embedded in congruent or incongruent scenarios as defined by the compatibility between grips and intentions afforded by the contextual objects. Behaviorally, participants were better at discriminating congruent actions in intact than LSF images. This effect was reversed for incongruent actions, with better performance for LSF than intact and HSF. These modulations were mirrored at the neurophysiological level, with greater CSE facilitation for congruent than incongruent actions for HSF and the opposite pattern for LSF images. Finally, only for LSF did we observe CSE modulations according to grip kinematics. While results point to differential dorsal (LSF) and ventral (HSF) contributions to action comprehension for grip and context encoding, respectively, the negative congruency effect for LSF images suggests that object processing may influence action perception not only through ventral-to-dorsal connections, but also through a dorsal-to-dorsal route involved in predictive processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13151-13161
Number of pages11
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - Jun 9 2020


  • Action comprehension
  • Context
  • Spatial frequency
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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