Use of implicit motor imagery for visual shape discrimination as revealed by PET

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POSITRON emission tomography (PET) can be used to map brain regions that are active when a visual object (for example, a hand) is discriminated from its mirror form. Chronometric studies1á€-3 suggest that viewers 'solve' this visual shape task by mentally modelling it as a reaching task, implicitly moving their left hand into the orientation of any left-hand stimulus (and conversely for a right-hand stimulus). Here we describe an experiment in which visual and somatic processing are dissociated by presenting right hands to the left visual field and vice versa. Frontal (motor), parie- tal (somatosensory) and cerebellar (sensorimotor) regions similar to those activated by actual4,5 and imagined6á€-8 movement are strongly activated, whereas primary somatosensory and motor cortices are not. We conclude that mental imagery is realized at intermediate-to-high order, modality-specific cortical systems, but does not require primary cortex and is not constrained to the perceptual systems of the presented stimuli.

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Parsons, L., Fox, P., Downs, J. et al. Use of implicit motor imagery for visual shape discrimination as revealed by PET. Nature 375, 54–58 (1995) doi:10.1038/375054a0

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