How does imitation occur? How can the motor plans necessary for imitating an action derive from the observation of that action? Imitation may be based on a mechanism directly matching the observed action onto an internal motor representation of that action ("direct matching hypothesis"). To test this hypothesis, normal human participants were asked to observe and imitate a finger movement and to perform the same movement after spatial or symbolic cues. Brain activity was measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging. If the direct matching hypothesis is correct, there should be areas that become active during finger movement, regardless of how it is evoked, and their activation should increase when the same movement is elicited by the observation of an identical movement made by another individual. Two areas with these properties were found in the left inferior frontal cortex (opercular region) and the rostral-most region of the right superior parietal lobule.
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