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Previous study indicates that target–target inhibition of return (IOR) is not restricted to a single nervous system. Specifically, watching another person perform a goal-directed aiming movement engages similar inhibitory processes on a subsequent aiming attempt as if having performed the preceding movement oneself. This between-person effect has been attributed to the mirror neuron system. In the study reported here, we replicated this finding and examined the relative importance of automatic stimulus alerting events and action–observation by dissociating these two influences. This was done by having two people alternately perform sets of two aiming trials to the same equally probable targets. Under some experimental conditions, one or both of the performers moved to a non-illuminated target. In this way, we dissociated the stimulus and observed event under some between-person conditions. Although IOR was greatest when the stimulus and observed events were compatible, both contributed to the between-person inhibitory processes slowing the responses (Experiment 1). The impact of observing another person perform an aiming movement appears to have more to do with realizing a particular spatial goal than seeing the biological motion associated with achieving that goal (Experiment 2). Findings that both the illumination of a visual target signal and the observation of another person’s action engage similar attention–action processes are consistent with action-based accounts of visual selective attention.
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