The impact of action observation on the intention for action engagement

Ana Maria Abreu*, Cristina P. Monteiro, Belén Rando

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Based on the embodiment theory of action and the shared neural networks between action execution and action observation, we investigate how an acute bout of exercise and action observation might differently modulate proneness for exercise. We used a visual analog scale to assess proneness for exercise and collected salivary cortisol pre and post conditions to investigate if cortisol secretion subtends proneness for exercise derived from seeing and doing. Thirty University students (16 Active and 14 Sedentary) volunteered to participate in all 3 conditions (Control; Action Execution; and Action Observation). Crucially, we find that the mere observation of action leads to a greater enhancement of proneness for exercise when compared to action execution. Increased proneness for exercise, however, is not associated with higher cortisol secretion linked to cortical motor activity brought about by embodiment. We suggest that the decisional motivation process is cognitive and top-down and not bottom-up as embodiment theories would suggest. Moreover, we did not find any difference between active and sedentary participants in cortisol secretion across conditions, suggesting a complex interaction between intensity and chronicity on perceived exertion and cortisol secretion. Crucially, our findings contribute to further our understanding of the mechanisms of exercise engagement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-490
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Action observation
  • Acute bouts of exercise
  • Proneness for exercise
  • Salivary cortisol


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