Exploring the neural correlates of goal-directed action and intention understanding.

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Abstract or Description

Because we are a cooperative species, understanding the goals and intentions of others is critical for human survival. In this fMRI study, participants viewed reaching behaviors in which one of four animated characters moved a hand towards one of two objects and either (a) picked up the object, (b) missed the object, or (c) changed his path halfway to lift the other object. The characters included a human, a humanoid robot, stacked boxes with an arm, and a mechanical claw. The first three moved in an identical, human-like biological pattern. Right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) activity increased when the human or humanoid robot shifted goals or missed the target relative to obtaining the original goal. This suggests that the pSTS was engaged differentially for figures that appeared more human-like rather than for all human-like motion. Medial frontal areas that are part of a protagonist-monitoring network with the right pSTS (e.g., Mason and Just, 2006) were most engaged for the human character, followed by the robot character. The current data suggest that goal-directed action and intention understanding require this network and it is used similarly for the two processes. Moreover, it is modulated by character identity rather than only the presence of biological motion. We discuss the implications for behavioral theories of goal-directed action and intention understanding.




Published In

NeuroImage, 54, 2, 1634-1642.