Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Previous behavioral and neuroimaging studies have suggested that the motor properties associated with graspable objects may be automatically accessed when people passively view these objects. We directly tested this by measuring the excitability of the motor pathway when participants viewed pictures of graspable objects that were presented during the attentional blink (AB), when items frequently go undetected. Participants had to identify two briefly presented objects separated by either a short or long SOA. Motor-evoked potentials were measured from the right hand in response to a single TMS pulse delivered over the left primary motor cortex 250 msec after the onset of the second target. Behavioral results showed poorer identification of objects at short SOA compared with long SOA, consistent with an AB, which did not differ between graspable and nongraspable objects. However, motor-evoked potentials measured during the AB were significantly higher for graspable objects than for nongraspable objects, irrespective of whether the object was successfully identified or undetected. This provides direct evidence that the motor system is automatically activated during visual processing of objects that afford a motor action.