This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, reproduction and adaptation in any medium and for any purpose provided that it is properly attributed. For attribution, the original author(s), title, publication source (PeerJ Preprints) and either DOI or URL of the article must be cited.
Background. Hand gestures play an important role in face-to-face communication. Although studies have shown that the mirror neuron system and the mentalizing system are involved in gesture comprehension, evidence of how the two systems are activated during gesture production is scattered and the conclusion is unclear. Methods. To address this issue, the current meta-analysis used activation likelihood estimation (ALE) method to quantitatively summarize the results of previous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies on communicative gesture production. Eight studies were selected based on several criteria (e.g., using fMRI technique, involving healthy adults, using gesture production tasks, conducting whole-brain analysis, and reporting activation foci in the MNI or Talairach space). ALE was conducted to calculate the overall brain effects for gesture production, and subsequently the brain effects for gesture execution, planning, and imitation. Results. The meta-analysis results showed that overall both systems (inferior parietal lobule and medial cortical structures) were involved in gesture production. Further analyses indicated that the mirror neuron system and the primary motor cortex were selectively involved in gesture execution, whereas the menalizing system and the premotor cortex were selectively involved in gesture planning. In gesture imitation, significant effects were found in both systems. Discussion. These results suggest that the mirror neuron system and the mentalizing system play different roles during gesture production. The former may be involved in the processes that require the mapping between observed actions and motor representations or the retrieval of motor representations; whereas the later may be involved when the production tasks require understanding others’ mental states.