Eye movements may cause motor contagion effects

Merryn Constable, John de Grosbois, Tiffany Lung, Luc Tremblay, Jay Pratt, Timothy Welsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
24 Downloads (Pure)


When a person executes a movement, the movement is more errorful while observing another person’s actions that are incongruent rather than congruent with the executed action. This effect is known as “motor contagion”. Accounts of this effect are often grounded in simulation mechanisms: increased movement error emerges because the motor codes associated with observed actions compete with motor codes of the goal action. It is also possible, however, that the increased movement error is linked to eye movements that are executed simultaneously with the hand movement because oculomotor and manual-motor systems are highly interconnected. In the present study, participants performed a motor contagion task in which they executed horizontal arm movements while observing a model making either vertical (incongruent) or horizontal (congruent) movements under three conditions: no instruction, maintain central fixation, or track the model’s hand with the eyes. A significant motor contagion-like effect was only found in the ‘track’ condition. Thus, ‘motor contagion’ in the present task may be an artifact of simultaneously executed incongruent eye movements. These data are discussed in the context of stimulation and associative learning theories, and raise eye movements as a critical methodological consideration for future work on motor contagion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)835-841
Number of pages7
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin & Review
Issue number3
Early online date26 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


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