How people understand the actions of animate agents has been vigorously debated. This debate has centered on two hypotheses focused on anatomically distinct neural substrates: The mirror-system hypothesis proposes that the understanding of others is achieved via action simulation, and the social-network hypothesis proposes that such understanding is achieved via the integration of critical biological properties (e.g., faces, affect). In this study, we assessed the areas of the brain that were engaged when people interpreted and imagined moving shapes as animate or inanimate. Although observing and imagining the moving shapes engaged the mirror system, only activation of the social network was modulated by animacy.
Lateral and medial views of the social network (top, highlighted in yellow) and mirror system (bottom, highlighted in blue). The social network includes areas associated with biological motion (superior temporal sulcus, labeled "1"), biological form (lateral fusiform gyrus, labeled "6"), mentalizing (medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate, labeled "3" and "4," respectively), and affective processing (insula and amygdala, labeled "2" and "5," respectively). The mirror system consists of the inferior parietal cortex (labeled "7") and the ventral-premotor/inferior-frontal cortex (labeled "8").
Experimental results. The brain slices in (a) depict areas of the social network that were more active when moving shapes were inferred (red) or imagined (orange) as animate than when they were inferred or imagined as inanimate. Yellow areas were more active for both animate inference and imagery ("conjunction"). The graph in (b) displays the average hemodynamic responses within the conjunction areas as a function of animacy (animate, inanimate) and condition (motion, imagery). (Results are not shown for the posterior insula, although this was also a conjunction area.) The illustration in (c) shows areas of the mirror system that were more active when subjects watched and made inferences about the moving shapes (purple) and when they imagined (dark blue) the moving shapes relative to when they viewed the backgrounds alone; light-blue areas were more active during both the motion and imagery conditions ("conjunction") than in the background condition. The graph in (d) shows the average hemodynamic responses of the conjunction mirror areas as a function of animacy and condition. For purposes of illustration, all group data are presented on the N27 (AFNI software) brain. Error bars represent standard errors. STS = superior temporal sulcus; PFC = prefrontal cortex.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Where the brain understands animate agents..
Wheatley et al offer an interesting study in a recent issue of Psychological Science (vol 18, pg 469, 2007, PDF here). Here is the abstract and two figures: