Joint action modulates motor system involvement during action observation in 3-year-olds

Marlene Meyer*, Sabine Hunnius, Michiel Van Elk, Freek Van Ede, Harold Bekkering

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


When we are engaged in a joint action, we need to integrate our partner's actions with our own actions. Previous research has shown that in adults the involvement of one's own motor system is enhanced during observation of an action partner as compared to during observation of an individual actor. The aim of this study was to investigate whether similar motor system involvement is present at early stages of joint action development and whether it is related to joint action performance. In an EEG experiment with 3-year-old children, we assessed the children's brain activity and performance during a joint game with an adult experimenter. We used a simple button-pressing game in which the two players acted in turns. Power in the mu- and beta-frequency bands was compared when children were not actively moving but observing the experimenter's actions when (1) they were engaged in the joint action game and (2) when they were not engaged. Enhanced motor involvement during action observation as indicated by attenuated sensorimotor mu- and beta-power was found when the 3-year-olds were engaged in the joint action. This enhanced motor activation during action observation was associated with better joint action performance. The findings suggest that already in early childhood the motor system is differentially activated during action observation depending on the involvement in a joint action. This motor system involvement might play an important role for children's joint action performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)581-592
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Action observation
  • Joint action
  • Motor system
  • Social interaction
  • Social-cognitive development


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