Brain mechanisms of perceiving tools and imagining tool use acts: A functional MRI study

Academic Article


  • The ability to conceptualize and manipulate tools in a complex manner is a distinguishing characteristic of humans, and forms a promising milestone in human evolution. While using tools is a motor act, proposals for executing such acts may be evoked by the mere perception of a tool. Imagining an action using a tool may invoke mental readjustment of body posture, planning motor movements, and matching such plans with the model action. This fMRI study examined the brain response in 32 healthy adults when they either viewed a tool or imagined using it. While both viewing and imagining tasks recruited similar regions, imagined tool use showed greater activation in motor areas, and in areas around the bilateral temporoparietal junction. Viewing tools, on the other hand, produced robust activation in the inferior frontal, occipital, parietal, and ventral temporal areas. Analysis of gender differences indicated males recruiting medial prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices and females, left supramarginal gyrus and left anterior insula. While tool viewing seems to generate prehensions about using them, the imagined action using a tool mirrored brain responses underlying functional use of it. The findings of this study may suggest that perception and imagination of tools may form precursors to overt actions. © 2011.
  • Authors

    Published In

  • Neuropsychologia  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Wadsworth HM; Kana RK
  • Start Page

  • 1863
  • End Page

  • 1869
  • Volume

  • 49
  • Issue

  • 7