In humans, observation of others' behaviors increases corticospinal excitability (CSE), which is interpreted in the contexts of motor resonance and the "mirror neuron system" (MNS). It has been suggested that observation of another individual's behavior manifests an embodied simulation of his/her mental state through the MNS. Thus, the MNS may involve understanding others' intentions of behaviors, thoughts, and emotions (i.e., social cognition), and may therefore exhibit a greater response when observing human-interactive behaviors that require a more varied and complex understanding of others. In the present study, transcranial magnetic stimulation was applied to the primary motor cortex of participants observing human-interactive behaviors between two individuals (c.f. one person reaching toward an object in another person's hand) and non-interactive individual behavior (c.f. one person reaching toward an object on a dish). We carefully controlled the kinematics of behaviors in these two conditions to exclude potential effects of MNS activity changes associated with kinematic differences between visual stimuli. Notably, motor evoked potentials, that reflect CSE, from the first dorsal interosseous muscle exhibited greater amplitude when the participants observed interactive behaviors than when they observed non-interactive behavior. These results provide neurophysiological evidence that the MNS is activated to a greater degree during observation of human-interactive behaviors that contain additional information about the individuals' mental states, supporting the view that the MNS plays a critical role in social cognition in humans.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
- Cognitive Neuroscience