Tool use imagery triggers tool incorporation in the body schema

Matteo Baccarini, Marie Martel, Lucilla Cardinali, Olivier Sillan, Alessandro Farnè, Alice C Roy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tool-use has been shown to modify the way the brain represents the metrical characteristics of the effector controlling the tool. For example, the use of tools that elongate the physical length of the arm induces kinematic changes affecting selectively the transport component of subsequent free-hand movements. Although mental simulation of an action is known to involve -to a large extent- the same processes as those at play in overt motor execution, whether tool-use imagery can yield similar effects on the body representation remains unknown. Mentally simulated actions indeed elicit autonomic physiological responses and follow motor execution rules that are comparable to those associated with the correspondent overt performance. Therefore, here we investigated the effects of the mental simulation of actions performed with a tool on the body representation by studying subsequent free-hand movements. Subjects executed reach to grasp movements with their hand before and after an imagery task performed with either a tool elongating their arm length or, as a control, with their hand alone. Two main results were found: First, in agreement with previous studies, durations of imagined movements performed with the tool and the hand were similarly affected by task difficulty. Second, kinematics of free-hand movements was affected after tool-use imagery, but not hand-use imagery, in a way similar to that previously documented after actual tool-use. These findings constitute the first evidence that tool-use imagery is sufficient to affect the representation of the user's arm.

Original languageEnglish
Article number492
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Early online date30 May 2014
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 May 2014
Externally publishedYes

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