||Whenever we plan, imagine, or observe an action, the motor systems that would be involved in preparing and executing that action are similarly engaged. The way in which such common motor activation is formed, however, is likely to differ depending on whether it arises from our own intentional selection of action or from the observation of another's action. In this study, we use time-resolved event-related functional MRI to tease apart neural processes specifically related to the processing of observed actions, the selection of our own intended actions, the preparation for movement, and motor response execution. Participants observed a finger gesture movement or a cue indicating they should select their own finger gesture to perform, followed by a 5-s delay period; participants then performed the observed or self-selected action. During the preparation and readiness for action, prior to initiation, we found activation in a common network of higher motor areas, including dorsal and ventral premotor areas and the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA); the more caudal SMA showed greater activation during movement execution. Importantly, the route to this common motor activation differed depending on whether participants freely selected the actions to perform or whether they observed the actions performed by another person. Observation of action specifically involved activation of inferior and superior parietal regions, reflecting involvement of the dorsal visual pathway in visuomotor processing required for planning the action. In contrast, the selection of action specifically involved the dorsal lateral prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex, reflecting the role of these prefrontal areas in attentional selection and guiding the selection of responses.