Psychological Research vol:76 issue:4 pages:503-513
During movement observation, corticomotor excitability of the observer's primary motor cortex (M1) is modulated according to the force requirements of the observed action. Here, we explored the time course of observation-induced force encoding. Force-related changes in M1-excitability were assessed by delivering transcranial magnetic stimulations at distinct temporal phases of an observed reach-grasp-lift action. Temporal changes in force-related electromyographic activity were also assessed during active movement execution. In observation conditions in which a heavy object was lifted, M1-excitability was higher compared to conditions in which a light object was lifted. Both during observation and execution, differential force encoding tended to gradually increase from the grasping phase until the late lift phase. Surprisingly, however, during observation, force encoding was already present at the early reach phase: a time point at which no visual cues on the object's weight were available to the observer. As the observer was aware that the same weight condition was presented repeatedly, this finding may indicate that prior predictions concerning the upcoming weight condition are reflected by M1 excitability. Overall, findings may provide indications that the observer's motor system represents motor predictions as well as muscular requirements to infer the observed movement goal.