This paper concerns how motor actions are neurally represented and coded. Action planning and motor preparation can be studied using a specific type of representational activity, motor imagery. A close functional equivalence between motor imagery and motor preparation is suggested by the positive effects of imagining movements on motor learning, the similarity between the neural structures involved, and the similar physiological correlates observed in both imaging and preparing. The content of motor representations can be inferred from motor images at a macroscopic level, based on global aspects of the action (the duration and amount of effort involved) and the motor rules and constraints which predict the spatial path and kinematics of movements. A more microscopic neural account calls for a representation of object-oriented action. Object attributes are processed in different neural pathways depending on the kind of task the subject is performing. During object-oriented action, a pragmatic representation is activated in which object affordances are transformed into specific motor schemas (independently of other tasks such as object recognition). Animal as well as human clinical data implicate the posterior parietal and premotor cortical areas in schema instantiation. A mechanism is proposed that is able to encode the desired goal of the action and is applicable to different levels of representational organization.
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