Motor mapping of implied actions during perception of emotional body language

Sara Borgomaneri, Valeria Gazzola, Alessio Avenanti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Perceiving and understanding emotional cues is critical for survival. Using the International Affective Picture System (IAPS) previous TMS studies have found that watching humans in emotional pictures increases motor excitability relative to seeing landscapes or household objects, suggesting that emotional cues may prime the body for action. Objective/Hypothesis: Here we tested whether motor facilitation to emotional pictures may reflect the simulation of the human motor behavior implied in the pictures occurring independently of its emotional valence. Methods: Motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) to single-pulse TMS of the left motor cortex were recorded from hand muscles during observation and categorization of emotional and neutral pictures. In experiment 1 participants watched neutral, positive and negative IAPS stimuli, while in experiment 2, they watched pictures depicting human emotional (joyful, fearful), neutral body movements and neutral static postures. Results: Experiment 1 confirms the increase in excitability for emotional IAPS stimuli found in previous research and shows, however, that more implied motion is perceived in emotional relative to neutral scenes. Experiment 2 shows that motor excitability and implied motion scores for emotional and neutral body actions were comparable and greater than for static body postures. Conclusions: In keeping with embodied simulation theories, motor response to emotional pictures may reflect the simulation of the action implied in the emotional scenes. Action simulation may occur independently of whether the observed implied action carries emotional or neutral meanings. Our study suggests the need of controlling implied motion when exploring motor response to emotional pictures of humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-76
Number of pages7
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012


  • Action simulation
  • Emotional Body
  • Implied motion
  • International Affective Picture system
  • Mirror Neurons
  • Motor-evoked potentials
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biophysics


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