fMRI repetition suppression for familiar but not arbitrary actions with tools

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Electronic versions

  • Kenneth F Valyear
    University of Missouri, USA
  • Jason P Gallivan
    Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada
  • D Adam McLean
    University of Western Ontario, Canada
  • Jody C Culham
    University of Western Ontario, Canada

For humans, daily life is characterized by routine interaction with many different tools for which corresponding actions are specified and performed according to well-learned procedures. The current study used functional MRI (fMRI) repetition suppression (RS) to identify brain areas underlying the transformation of visually defined tool properties to corresponding motor programs for conventional use. Before grasping and demonstrating how to use a specific tool, participants passively viewed either the same (repeated) tool or a different (non-repeated) tool. Repetition of tools led to reduced fMRI signals (RS) within a selective network of parietal and premotor areas. Comparison with newly learned, arbitrarily defined control actions revealed specificity of RS for tool use, thought to reflect differences in the extent of previous sensorimotor experience. The findings indicate that familiar tools are visually represented within the same sensorimotor areas underlying their dexterous use according to learned properties defined by previous experience. This interpretation resonates with the broader concept of affordance specification considered fundamental to action planning and execution whereby action-relevant object properties (affordances) are visually represented in sensorimotor areas. The current findings extend this view to reveal that affordance specification in humans includes learned object properties defined by previous sensorimotor experience. From an evolutionary perspective, the neural mechanisms identified in the current study offer clear survival advantage, providing fast efficient transformation of visual information to appropriate motor responses based on previous experience.


  • Adult, Brain, Brain Mapping, Factor Analysis, Statistical, Female, Functional Laterality, Hand, Hand Strength, Humans, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Inhibition (Psychology), Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Oxygen, Psychomotor Performance, Recognition (Psychology), Young Adult, Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4247-59
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes
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