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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The perceptual and cognitive roles of the motor system

  • Author(s): Gordon, Chelsea Leigh
  • Advisor(s): Balasubramaniam, Ramesh
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License

The motor system in the brain is crucial in allowing us to successfully move around

in our environment, interact with people and objects, and execute finely controlled motor

commands. While most of the early neuroscience research on these regions tends to focus

on these “main” functions, over the last few decades evidence has been surfacing that

points to a more broadly integrated role for the motor system. Many recent findings

suggest that it is also of importance in many other aspects of human cognition, from

language and thought to social cognition and, as I discuss in depth in the following

sections, many perceptual processes. In the following chapters, I outline and compare

existing prediction-based and simulation-based theories for motor system involvement in

perception. I also describe experiments I completed investigating motor system

involvement in written language perception, music perception, and action observation.

Furthermore, I discuss how these processes relate to conceptual learning and recall. In

summary, a vast literature points to the motor system proper not being a neural network

that is only good for controlling and planning our actions. As we develop the vocabulary

of the field to use terms like “action-perception loops” and discuss these processes as less

separable than previously considered, perhaps we should also reconsider the term “motor

system” to reflect its diverse roles in sensorimotor prediction.

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