In this event-related fMRI study, we demonstrate the effects of a single session of practising configural hand actions (guitar chords) on cortical activations during observation, motor preparation, and imitative execution. During the observation of non-practised actions, the mirror neuron system (MNS), consisting of inferior parietal and ventral premotor areas, was more strongly activated than for the practised actions. This finding indicates a strong role of the MNS in the early stages of imitation learning. In addition, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) was selectively involved during observation and motor preparation of the non-practised chords. This finding confirms Buccino et al.’s (2004a) model of imitation learning: for actions that are not yet part of the observer’s motor repertoire, DLPFC engages in operations of selection and combination of existing, elementary representations in the MNS. The pattern of prefrontal activations further supports Shallice’s (2004) proposal of a dominant role of the left DLPFC in modulating lower-level systems, and of a dominant role of the right DLPFC in monitoring operations.
The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, NeuroImage 37 (4), 2007, © ELSEVIER.