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The premotor cortex is frequently associated with object-directed or goal-directed action imitation. However, the degree to which this area is involved in meaningful or meaningless action imitation is not yet clear. We examined the role of the left ventral (PMv) and dorsal (PMd) premotor cortices in meaningful and meaningless action imitation by using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). Participants imitated meaningful and meaningless actions performed by a confederate actor whilst both individuals were motion-tracked. rTMS was applied over the left PMv, left PMd, or a vertex control site during action observation or imitation. Digit velocity was significantly lower following stimulation over the PMv during observation compared to stimulation over the PMv during imitation. Similar effects were not observed over the PMd or vertex. In addition, stimulation over the PMv negatively influenced thumb movement reversals and accuracy in a finger-thumb opposition task. We suggest that claims regarding the role of the PMv in object-directed hand shaping may stem from the prevalence of object-directed designs in motor control research. Our results indicate that the PMv has a broader role in ‘target-directed’ hand shaping, whereby different areas of the hand are considered targets to act upon during intransitive gesturing.
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