Chapter 11 - Motor Cognition and Mental Simulation
Putting ourselves into someone elses shoes requires motor cognition
Motor cognition is mental processing in which the motor system draws on stored
information to plan and produce actions and also allows us to anticipate, predict and
interpret the actions of others
The nature of motor cognition
Action is a visible manifestation of a series of mental processes. These same mental
processes involved in acting can be used in thinking about actions without actually
Movement is a voluntary displacement of a body part in physical space.
Action is a series of movements that must be accomplished in order to reach a goal.
Therefore, action is goal directed and movement is not goal directed
Motor cognition involves all the mental processes involved in the planning, preparation and
production of our own actions and also includes the mental processes involved in
anticipating, predicting and interpreting the actions of others
Perception-action cycle involves the transformation of perceived patterns into co-ordinated
patterns of movement i.e. we perceive the situation and based on the perception execute our
actions. We move to perceive and perceive so that we can move
Perception not only helps us examine objects and events but also provides us with guidance
and feedback of the movement therefore, helps us recognize which movements are helpful
and which are not
Perception and action are mutually interdependent and motor cognition involves the
interaction of them.
Perception and action share their mental representations
The content of perceptions (i.e. analyzing the situation) and intentions (mental plans
designed to achieve a goal through action) involve perceptual and motor systems
The Nature of Motor Processing in the Brain
Motor cognition involves 3 main motor areas:
i. Supplementary motor area (SMA); involves setting up and executing action plans.
ii. Premotor area (PM); is involved in setting up programs for specific sequences of
actions and sends the input to the motor area
iii. Motor Area (M1); neurons in this area control fine motor movements and send the
fibers out of the brain to the muscles
1 The three motor areas are believed to lie in a hierarchy with M1 at the bottom and SMA at
the top. SMA is involved in planning most complex movements, premotor area is involved in
less precisely specified sets of movements and M1 is responsible for exact specific
A study was conducted to determine the difference between performing a task and thinking
about a task. In this study, monkeys were shown a specific sequence of lights and they were
directed to press the lights as they appear (visually triggered action situation) or remember
the sequence and press it without visual guidance (internally triggered action situation).
The activity of M1, premotor area and SMA was recorded:
i. M1 neurons showed similar activity in both conditions since the same movements
were produced in both conditions
ii. SMA neurons were more active in the internally triggered situation during the pre-
movement and movement period indicating that the formulation of plan involves
iii. PM neurons were more active in the visually triggered situation in the pre-movement
and movement period indicating that this area is involved in setting up specific
Therefore, we know that formulating a plan in advance and organization of movement
requires SMA and responding to an environmental cue and preparation of an exact action
requires premotor area
Also, the 3 motor areas interact in complex ways and there is no particular one direction of
the flow of information
Prefrontal cortex is involved in initiating a movement and temporal organization (i.e. holds
the sequence of movements in a proper order) of action
Cerebellum is involved in the temporal control (i.e. to maintain the order of movements in
time and perform them in the correct sequence in time) of action sequences
The role of shared representations
Shared motor representations refer to our ability to mentally represent the actions made by
other people. These representations that are at work when are observing someone performing
a task are the same ones that we use when performing that task ourselves.
By observing someone else perform a task, we can acquire the representations that can later
help us perform that task ourselves.
The notion of shared representation is critical when we communicate with someone else
because using similar representations while communicating help us mutually understanding
each other and see a situation from a similar perspective.
Shared representations of meanings of words has become internalized in us and these shared
motor representations help us interpret the actions of other people and thus respond
2Mental Simulation and the Motor System
We can perform the task of reasoning in various ways. One specific way of reasoning means
to form and transform mental images of action and observe the consequences of those
Motor imagery means to mentally simulate an action without actually producing it. IT is
often better to perform motor imagery before actually producing an action.
Motor imagery guides motor cognition and motor cognition affects motor imagery.
Motor imagery involves programming and preparing actual actions without actually
producing the action
Motor Priming and Mental Representation
Specific mental representations guide the mental simulations.
Priming is an effect where watching an action facilitates its processing and we become more
likely to perform the same motor response.
When we observe the action we store the mental representation of how to perform the action
and next time, to perform the action we make use of that same representation
The effect of perception on motor production was tested whereby two balls were colliding
and the participants were required to move an object with the speed of either object A or B. It
was noticed that the speed with which participants moved the object was always affected by
the speed of both balls. Therefore, when a stimulus is present we cant just ignore it
Another study conducted involved display o