Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5c569c448b-4wdfl Total loading time: 0.222 Render date: 2022-07-01T14:15:17.147Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

What happens to the motor theory of perception when the motor system is damaged?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 March 2014

Alena Stasenko
Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester, USA E-mail:
Frank E. Garcea
Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester, USA E-mail:
Bradford Z. Mahon
Meliora Hall, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627-0268, USA; Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester, USA; Department of Neurosurgery, University of Rochester Medical Center, USA; Center for Language Sciences, University of Rochester, USA. E-mail:


Motor theories of perception posit that motor information is necessary for successful recognition of actions. Perhaps the most well known of this class of proposals is the motor theory of speech perception, which argues that speech recognition is fundamentally a process of identifying the articulatory gestures (i.e. motor representations) that were used to produce the speech signal. Here we review neuropsychological evidence from patients with damage to the motor system, in the context of motor theories of perception applied to both manual actions and speech. Motor theories of perception predict that patients with motor impairments will have impairments for action recognition. Contrary to that prediction, the available neuropsychological evidence indicates that recognition can be spared despite profound impairments to production. These data falsify strong forms of the motor theory of perception, and frame new questions about the dynamical interactions that govern how information is exchanged between input and output systems.

The perspective from apraxia
Copyright © UK Cognitive Linguistics Association 2013

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Arbib, M. 2010. Mirror system activity for action and language is embedded in the integration of dorsal and ventral pathways. Brain and Language 112(1). 1224.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Arbib, M. 2012. How the brain got language. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baker, E., Blumsteim, S. & Goodglass, H.. 1981. Interaction between phonological and semantic factors in auditory comprehension. Neuropsychologia 19(1). 115.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Blumstein, S. E. 1991. Phonological aspects of aphasia. In Sarno, M. (ed.), Acquired aphasia, 151180. San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Blumstein, S. E. 1995. The neurobiology of the sound structure of language. In Gazzaniga, M. (ed.), The cognitive neurosciences, 915929. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Blumstein, S., Cooper, W., Zurif, E. & Caramazza, A.. 1977. The perception and production of voice-onset time in aphasia. Neuropsychologia 15(3). 371383.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Darley, F. 1968. Apraxia of speech: 107 years of terminological confusion. Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the American Speech and Hearing Association, Denver, Colorado.Google Scholar
Diehl, R., Lotto, A. & Holt, L.. 2004. Speech perception. Annual Review of Psychology 55. 149179.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
di Pellegrino, G., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., Gallese, V. & Rizzolatti, G.. 1992. Understanding motor events: A neurophysiological study. Experimental Brain Research 91. 176180.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Dinstein, I., Thomas, C., Behrmann, M. & Heeger, D.. 2008. A mirror up to nature. Current Biology 18(1). R13R18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dronkers, N. 1996. A new brain region for coordinating speech articulation. Nature 384(6605). 159161.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Eimas, P., Siqueland, E., Jusczyk, P. & Vigorito, J.. 1971. Speech perception in infants. Science 171(3968). 303306.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Fadiga, L., Craighero, L., Buccino, G. & Rizzolatti, G.. 2002. Speech listening specifically modulates the excitability of tongue muscles: A TMS study. European Journal of Neuroscience 15(2). 399402.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., Pavesi, G. & Rizzolatti, G.. 1995. Motor facilitation during action observation: A magnetic stimulation study. Journal of Neurophysiology 73(6). 26082611.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Galantucci, B., Fowler, C. & Turvey, M. T.. 2006. The motor theory of speech perception reviewed. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 13(3). 361377.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Garcea, F. E., Dombovy, M. & Mahon, B. Z.. 2013. Preserved tool knowledge in the context of impaired action knowledge: Implications for models of semantic memory. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7. 118.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hesslow, G. 2002. Conscious thought as simulation of behavior and perception. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 6(6). 242247.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hickok, G. 2009. Eight problems for the mirror neuron theory of action understanding in monkeys and humans. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 21(7). 12291243.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hickok, G. 2010. The role of mirror neurons in speech perception and action word semantics. Language and Cognitive Processes 25(6). 128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hickok, G., Costanzo, M., Capasso, R. & Miceli, G.. 2011. The role of Broca's area in speech perception: Evidence from aphasia revisited. Brain and Language 119(3). 214220.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hickok, G., Okada, K., Barr, W., Pa, J., Rogalsky, C., Donnelly, K., Barde, L. & Grant, A.. 2008. Bilateral capacity for speech sound processing in auditory comprehension: Evidence from Wada procedures. Brain and Language 107(3). 179184.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hickok, G & Poeppel, D.. 2004. Dorsal and ventral streams: a framework for understanding aspects of the functional anatomy of language. Cognition 92(1–2). 6799.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hickok, G. & Poeppel, D.. 2007. The cortical organization of speech processing. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 8. 393402.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Johns, D. & Darley, F.. 1970. Phonemic variability in apraxia of speech. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 13. 556583.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kiefer, M. & Pulvermüller, F.. 2012. Conceptual representations in mind and brain: Theoretical developments, current evidence and future directions. Cortex 48(7). 805825.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kuhl, P. & Miller, J.. 1975. Speech perception by the chinchilla: Voiced-voiceless distinction in alveolar plosive consonants. Science 190(4209). 6972.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Liberman, A. M., Cooper, F. S., Shankweiler, D. P. & Studdert-Kennedy, M.. 1967. Perception of the speech code. Psychological Review 74(6). 431461.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Liberman, A. M. & Mattingly, I. G.. 1985. The motor theory of speech perception revised. Cognition 21(1). 136.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lotto, A., Hickok, G. & Holt, L.. 2009. Reflections on mirror neurons and speech perception. Trends in Cognitive Science 13(3). 110114.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mahon, B. & Caramazza, A.. 2005. The orchestration of the sensory-motor systems: Clues from neuropsychology. Cognitive Neuropsychology 22(3). 480494.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mahon, B. & Caramazza, A.. 2008. A critical look at the embodied cognition hypothesis and a new proposal for grounding conceptual content. Journal of Physiology – Paris 102. 5970.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meister, I., Wilson, S., Deblieck, C., Wu, A. & Iacoboni, M.. 2007. The essential role of premotor cortex in speech perception. Current Biology 17(19). 16921696.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Moineau, S., Dronkers, N. & Bates, E.. 2005. Exploring the processing continuum of single-word comprehension in aphasia. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 48(4). 884896.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Möttönen, R. & Watkins, K.. 2012. Using TMS to study the role of the articulatory motor system in speech perception. Aphasiology 26(9). 11031118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Negri, G., Rumiati, R., Zadini, A., Ukmar, M., Mahon, B. & Caramazza, A.. 2007. What is the role of motor simulation in action and object recognition? Evidence from apraxia. Cognitive Neuropsychology 24(8). 795816.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pazzaglia, M., Smania, N., Corato, E. & Aglioti, S.. 2008. Neural underpinnings of gesture discrimination in patients with limb apraxia. Journal of Neuroscience 28(12). 30303041.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rapcsak, S., Ochipa, C., Anderson, K. & Poizner, H.. 1995. Progressive ideomotor apraxia: Evidence for a selective impairment of the action production system. Brain and Cognition 27(2). 213236.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rizzolatti, G. & Arbib, M.. 1998. Language within our grasp. Trends in Neurosciences 21(5). 188194.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rizzolatti, G. & Craighero, L.. 2004. The mirror-neuron system. Annual Review of Neuroscience 27. 169192.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rizzolatti, G., Fogassi, L. & Gallese, V.. 2001. Neurophysiological mechanisms underlying the understanding and imitation of action. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2. 661670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rogalsky, C., Love, T., Driscoll, D., Anderson, S. & Hickok, G.. 2011. Are mirror neurons the basis of speech perception? Evidence from five cases with damage to the purported human mirror system. Neurocase 17(2). 178187.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rothi, L. J. G., Mack, L. & Heilman, K.. 1986. Pantomime agnosia. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 49. 451454.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rumiati, R., Zanini, S., Vorano, L. & Shallice, T.. 2001. A form of ideational apraxia as a selective deficit of contention scheduling. Cognitive Neuropsychology 18(7). 617642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Scheerer, E. 1984. Motor theories of cognitive structure: A historical review. In Prinz, W. & Sanders, W. (eds.), Cognition and motor processes, 7798. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Serino, A., De Filippo, L., Casavecchia, C., Coccia, M., Shiffrar, M. & Làdavas, E.. 2009. Lesions to the motor system affect action perception. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 22(3). 413426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shankweiler, D. & Harris, K.. 1966. An experimental approach to the problems of articulation in aphasia. Cortex 2. 277292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Square-Storer, P., Darley, F. & Sommers, R.. 1988. Nonspeech and speech processing skills in patients with aphasia and apraxia of speech. Brain and Language 33(1). 6585.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Toni, I., de Lange, F., Noordzij, M. & Hagoort, P.. 2008. Language beyond action. Journal of Physiology – Paris 102(1). 7179.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

What happens to the motor theory of perception when the motor system is damaged?
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

What happens to the motor theory of perception when the motor system is damaged?
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

What happens to the motor theory of perception when the motor system is damaged?
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *