Previous studies showed that observing deceptive actions modulates the activity of the observer's motor system. However, it is unclear whether this modulation reflects the coding of deceptive intentions or the mapping of the kinematic adaptations required to attain deceptive actions. Here, we used single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation to measure cortico-spinal excitability (CSE) from hand and forearm muscles while participants predicted the weight of cubes lifted by actors who received truthful information on the object weight and provided 1) truthful (truthful actions) or 2) deceptive (deceptive actions) cues to the observers or 3) who received fooling information and were asked to provide truthful cues (deceived actions). This way, we independently manipulated actor's intentions and kinematic adaptations. We found that, as compared to truthful action observation, CSE increased during observation of deceptive actions, but decreased during observation of deceived actions. Importantly, while the CSE enhancement in response to deceptive intentions lacked muscle specificity, perceiving kinematic alterations in the deceived condition affected CSE only for the hand muscle involved in kinematic adaptations to unexpected object weight. This suggests that actor's intentions and movement kinematics may be coded by the observer's motor system at different hierarchical levels of action representation.
Alessandra, F., Kucia, A., Cosimo, U., & Makris, S. (2016). Dissociated Representations of Deceptive Intentions and Kinematic Adaptations in the Observer’s Motor System. Cerebral Cortex, 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhw346