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Neural Coding of Cooperative vs. Affective Human Interactions: 150 ms to Code the Action's Purpose

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      The timing and neural processing of the understanding of social interactions was investigated by presenting scenes in which 2 people performed cooperative or affective actions. While the role of the human mirror neuron system (MNS) in understanding actions and intentions is widely accepted, little is known about the time course within which these aspects of visual information are automatically extracted. Event-Related Potentials were recorded in 35 university students perceiving 260 pictures of cooperative (e.g., 2 people dragging a box) or affective (e.g., 2 people smiling and holding hands) interactions. The action's goal was automatically discriminated at about 150–170 ms, as reflected by occipito/temporal N170 response. The swLORETA inverse solution revealed the strongest sources in the right posterior cingulate cortex (CC) for affective actions and in the right pSTS for cooperative actions. It was found a right hemispheric asymmetry that involved the fusiform gyrus (BA37), the posterior CC, and the medial frontal gyrus (BA10/11) for the processing of affective interactions, particularly in the 155–175 ms time window. In a later time window (200–250 ms) the processing of cooperative interactions activated the left post-central gyrus (BA3), the left parahippocampal gyrus, the left superior frontal gyrus (BA10), as well as the right premotor cortex (BA6). Women showed a greater response discriminative of the action's goal compared to men at P300 and anterior negativity level (220–500 ms). These findings might be related to a greater responsiveness of the female vs. male MNS. In addition, the discriminative effect was bilateral in women and was smaller and left-sided in men. Evidence was provided that perceptually similar social interactions are discriminated on the basis of the agents' intentions quite early in neural processing, differentially activating regions devoted to face/body/action coding, the limbic system and the MNS.

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        Event-related potentials (ERPs) associated with face perception were recorded with scalp electrodes from normal volunteers. Subjects performed a visual target detection task in which they mentally counted the number of occurrences of pictorial stimuli from a designated category such us butterflies. In separate experiments, target stimuli were embedded within a series of other stimuli including unfamiliar human faces and isolated face components, inverted faces, distorted faces, animal faces, and other nonface stimuli. Unman faces evoked a negative potential at 172 msec (N170), which was absent from the ERPs elicited by other animate and inanimate nonface stimuli. N170 was largest over the posterior temporal scalp and was larger over the right than the left hemisphere. N170 was delayed when faces were presented upside-down, but its amplitude did not change. When presented in isolation, eyes elicited an N170 that was significantly larger than that elicited by whole faces, while noses and lips elicited small negative ERPs about 50 msec later than N170. Distorted human faces, in which the locations of inner face components were altered, elicited an N170 similar in amplitude to that elicited by normal faces. However, faces of animals, human hands, cars, and items of furniture did not evoke N170. N170 may reflect the operation of a neural mechanism tuned to detect (as opposed to identify) human faces, similar to the "structural encoder" suggested by Bruce and Young (1986). A similar function has been proposed for the face-selective N200 ERP recorded from the middle fusiform and posterior inferior temporal gyri using subdural electrodes in humans (Allison, McCarthy, Nobre, Puce, & Belger, 1994c). However, the differential sensitivity of N170 to eyes in isolation suggests that N170 may reflect the activation of an eye-sensitive region of cortex. The voltage distribution of N170 over the scalp is consistent with a neural generator located in the occipitotemporal sulcus lateral to the fusiform/inferior temporal region that generates N200.
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          The functional role of the parieto-frontal mirror circuit: interpretations and misinterpretations.

          The parieto-frontal cortical circuit that is active during action observation is the circuit with mirror properties that has been most extensively studied. Yet, there remains controversy on its role in social cognition and its contribution to understanding the actions and intentions of other individuals. Recent studies in monkeys and humans have shed light on what the parieto-frontal cortical circuit encodes and its possible functional relevance for cognition. We conclude that, although there are several mechanisms through which one can understand the behaviour of other individuals, the parieto-frontal mechanism is the only one that allows an individual to understand the action of others 'from the inside' and gives the observer a first-person grasp of the motor goals and intentions of other individuals.

            Author and article information

            [1 ]Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy
            [2 ]Institute of Molecular Bioimaging and Physiology, CNR, Milano-Segrate, Italy
            [3 ]Vita-Salute University and Division of Neuroscience, San Raffaele Scientific Insitute, Milan, Italy
            University of Regensburg, Germany
            Author notes

            Conceived and designed the experiments: AMP. Performed the experiments: FR LP. Analyzed the data: AMP FR LP. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: AMP AZ. Wrote the paper: AMP. Contributed to study design and data discussion: AZ SC NC DP .

            Role: Editor
            PLoS One
            PLoS ONE
            Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
            7 July 2011
            : 6
            : 7
            Proverbio et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
            Pages: 12
            Research Article
            Cognitive Neuroscience
            Social and Behavioral Sciences
            Sensory Perception



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