Do you see what I mean? Corticospinal excitability during observation of culture-specific gestures

Istvan Molnar-Szakacs*, Allan D. Wu, Francisco J. Robles, Marco Iacoboni

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


People an over the world use their hands to communicate expressively. Autonomous gestures, also known as emblems, are highly social in nature, and convey conventionalized meaning without accompanying speech. To study the neural bases of cross-cultural social communication, we used single pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to measure corticospinal excitability (CSE) during observation of culture-specific emblems. Foreign Nicaraguan and familiar American emblems as well as meaningless control gestures were performed by both a Euro-American and a Micavaquan actor. Euro-American participants demonstrated higher CSE during observation of the American compared to the Nicaraguan actor. This motor resonance phenomenon may reflect ethnic and cultural ingroup familiarity effects. However, participants also domonstrated a nearly significant (p=0,053) actor by emblem interaction whereby both Nicaraguan and American emblems performed by the American actor elicited similar CSE whereas Nicaraguan emblems performed by the Nicaraguan actor yielded higher CSE than American emblems. The latter result cannot be interpreted simply as an effect of ethnic ingroup familliarity. Thus, a likely explanation of these findings is that motor resonance is modulated by-interacting biological and cultural factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere626
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 18 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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