Research Article: Modulation of Motor Area Activity by the Outcome for a Player during Observation of a Baseball Game

Date Published: November 25, 2009

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Sotaro Shimada, Paul L. Gribble.

Abstract: Observing competitive games such as sports is a pervasive entertainment among humans. The inclination to watch others play may be based on our social-cognitive ability to understand the internal states of others. The mirror neuron system, which is activated when a subject observes the actions of others, as well as when they perform the same action themselves, seems to play a crucial role in this process. Our previous study showed that activity of the mirror neuron system was modulated by the outcome of the subject’s favored player during observation of a simple competitive game (rock-paper-scissors). However, whether the mirror neuron system responds similarly in a more complex and naturalistic sports game has not yet been fully investigated.

Partial Text: Most of us enjoy watching competitive games performed by others, such as sports, car races or chess, as well as playing them ourselves. For example, we may occasionally go to a stadium to watch professional sports, such as football, baseball, or boxing. There are also famous worldwide competitions, such as the Olympics or the soccer World Cup, which are enthusiastically watched by audiences all over the world. Thus, there is no doubt that watching competitive games is a pervasive entertainment among humans. Nevertheless, the reason we like watching competitive games is not clear.

There was no significant main effect of support side or outcome, but there were significant interactions between these factors in motor area activity (P<0.05, corrected; Fig. 2; Table 1). Subsequent post-hoc analyses in ch-20, which showed the highest interaction (F(1, 11) = 76.5, P<0.001, corrected), revealed that there was a significant difference between the HIT and OUT conditions in the BATTER session (F(1, 22) = 7.93, P = 0.01) but not in the PITCHER session (F(1, 22) = 0.70, P = 0.41). Random effect analyses revealed that there was a significant activation in the BATTER-HIT condition (t(11) = 1.99, p = 0.04) but not in the other three conditions (P>0.1). A similar activation pattern was observed in the adjacent channels (ch-13 and ch-17; Table 1).

The results showed that the subject’s supported side and the outcome of the match-up modulated the motor area activity. The motor area showed a significant difference between HIT and OUT conditions in the batter-supported session, but this difference was not apparent in the pitcher-supported session. Because visual features of the stimuli were highly similar between conditions, it is unlikely that this differential activation was caused by early visual processing. Rather, the brain activity likely reflected the ‘resonance’ activity of the MNS caused by the action of the subject’s supported player because the activation foci was located in the motor area near C3 of the 10/20 system. In the present experiment, however, we did not examine brain activity when the subjects themselves performed the same action because of the technical difficulty in measuring brain activity without motion artifacts when swinging a bat. Nevertheless, because the significant activation was found in brain areas (slightly posterior to C3) similar to the previous study [8], we believe that the observed brain activity reflected the activity in the motor area comprising the MNS. It is also consistent with several previous studies that reported the MNS property in the motor area near C3 [4]–[8].



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