Physical exercise stimulates your brain in many ways, but is the same thing true for watching anyone else performing these exercises? YES, it is! Sometimes people do not have the ability to perform motor behaviour themselves. This can be for several reasons. But just imagine, you broke your arm and are stuck in plaster for several weeks. As well as the muscles in your arm shrink away, so does your brain when it doesn’t get stimulated by feeling and moving your arm. Think of how this can impair your motor performance. However, some researchers discovered we have a so called ‘mirror neuron system’ in our brain. We still don’t know exactly how it works, but it seems that the same brain areas that are active in motor performance get activated when we watch others move: we ‘mirror’ their motor behaviour.
We tested this theory: we investigated two groups: one experimental immobilization group where everybody had to immobilise their hand and forearm, the other group was free to move. Half of each group we showed a video of a finger tapping (motor) task, which they had performed before and had to perform again at the end of the experiment. The other half watched relaxing nature videos. The results will show if this action observation really can mitigate the impairing effect of a shrinking brain on motor performance. This can have promising implications on the treatment of for instance stroke patients, where brain areas get likely damaged and motor performance impaired.