Neural suppression elicited during motor imagery following the observation of biological motion from point-light walker stimuli

Alice Grazia, Michael Wimmer, Gernot Müller-Putz, Selina Christin Wriessnegger*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Advantageous effects of biological motion (BM) detection, a low-perceptual mechanism that allows the rapid recognition and understanding of spatiotemporal characteristics of movement via salient kinematics information, can be amplified when combined with motor imagery (MI), i.e., the mental simulation of motor acts. According to Jeannerod’s neurostimulation theory, asynchronous firing and reduction of mu and beta rhythm oscillations, referred to as suppression over the sensorimotor area, are sensitive to both MI and action observation (AO) of BM. Yet, not many studies investigated the use of BM stimuli using combined AO-MI tasks. In this study, we assessed the neural response in the form of event-related synchronization and desynchronization (ERD/S) patterns following the observation of point-light-walkers and concordant MI, as compared to MI alone. Methods: Twenty right-handed healthy participants accomplished the experimental task by observing BM stimuli and subsequently performing the same movement using kinesthetic MI (walking, cycling, and jumping conditions). We recorded an electroencephalogram (EEG) with 32 channels and performed time-frequency analysis on alpha (8–13 Hz) and beta (18–24 Hz) frequency bands during the MI task. A two-way repeated-measures ANOVA was performed to test statistical significance among conditions and electrodes of interest. Results: The results revealed significant ERD/S patterns in the alpha frequency band between conditions and electrode positions. Post hoc comparisons showed significant differences between condition 1 (walking) and condition 3 (jumping) over the left primary motor cortex. For the beta band, a significantly less difference in ERD patterns (p < 0.01) was detected only between condition 3 (jumping) and condition 4 (reference). Discussion: Our results confirmed that the observation of BM combined with MI elicits a neural suppression, although just in the case of jumping. This is in line with previous findings of AO and MI (AOMI) eliciting a neural suppression for simulated whole-body movements. In the last years, increasing evidence started to support the integration of AOMI training as an adjuvant neurorehabilitation tool in Parkinson’s disease (PD). Conclusion: We concluded that using BM stimuli in AOMI training could be promising, as it promotes attention to kinematic features and imitative motor learning.

Original languageEnglish
Article number788036
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2022


  • action observation (AO)
  • biological motion
  • EEG
  • motor imagery (MI)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

Fields of Expertise

  • Human- & Biotechnology


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