The passive observation of hand actions is associated with increased motor cortex excitability, presumably reflecting activity within the human mirror neuron system (MNS). Recent data show that in-group ethnic membership increases motor cortex excitability during observation of culturally relevant hand gestures, suggesting that physical similarity with an observed body part may modulate MNS responses. Here, we ask whether the MNS is preferentlly activated by passive observation of hand actions that are similar or dissimilar to self in terms of sex and skin color. Transcranial magnetic stimulation-induced motor evoked potentials were recorded from the first dorsal interosseus muscle while participants viewed videos depicting index finger movements made by female or male participants with black or white skin color. Forty-eight participants equally distributed in terms of sex and skin color participated in the study. Results show an interaction between self-attributes and physical attributes of the observed hand in the right motor cortex of female participants, where corticospinal excitability is increased during observation of hand actions in a different skin color than that of the observer. Our data show that specific physical properties of an observed action modulate motor cortex excitability and we hypothesize that in group/out group membership and self-related processes underlie these effects. © 2007 Désy, Theoret.
Désy, M. C., & Théoret, H. (2007). Modulation of motor cortex excitability by physical similarity with an observed hand action. PLoS ONE, 2(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0000971