Hrkac et al. (2014)

Hrkac, M., Wurm, M.F., & Schubotz, R.I. (2014). Action observers implicitly expect actors to act goal-coherently, even if they don't: an fMRI study. Human Brain Mapping, 35(5), 2178-2190. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22319

Actions observed in everyday life normally consist of one person performing sequences of goal-directed actions. The present fMRI study tested the hypotheses that observers are influenced by the actor?s identity, even when this information is task-irrelevant, and that this information shapes their expectation on subsequent actions of the same actor. Participants watched short video clips of action steps that either pertained to a common action with an overarching goal or not, and were performed by either one or by varying actors (2x2 design). Independent of goal coherence, actor coherence elicited activation in dorsolateral and ventromedial frontal cortex, together pointing to a spontaneous attempt to integrate all actions performed by one actor. Interestingly, watching an actor performing unrelated actions elicited additional activation in left inferior frontal gyrus, suggesting a search in semantic memory in an attempt to construct an overarching goal that can reconcile the disparate action steps with a coherent intention. Post-experimental surveys indicate that these processes occur mostly unconsciously. Findings strongly suggest a spontaneous expectation bias toward actor-related episodes in action observers, and hence to the immense impact of actor information on action observation.

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