Hrkac et al. (2015)

Hrkac, M., Wurm, M.F., Kühn, A.B., & Schubotz, R.I. (2015) Objects mediate goal integration in ventrolateral prefrontal cortex during action observation. PLOS ONE, 10(7), e0134316.

Actions performed by others are mostly not observed in isolation, but embedded insequences of actions tied together by an overarching goal. Therefore, preceding actions can modulate the observer's expectations in relation to the currently perceived action. Ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC), and inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) in particular, is suggested to subserve the integration of episodic as well as semantic information and memory, including action scripts. The present fMRI study investigated if activation in IFG varies with the effort to integrate expected and observed action, even when not required by the task. During an fMRI session, participants were instructed to attend to short videos of single actions and to deliver a judgment about the actor?s current goal. We manipulated the strength of goal expectation induced by the preceding action, implementing the parameter "goal-related-ness" between the preceding and the currently observed action. Moreover, since objects point to the probability of certain actions, we also manipulated whether the current and the preceding action shared at least one object or not. We found an interaction between the two factors goal-relatedness and shared object: IFG activation increased the weaker the goal-relatedness between the preceding and the current action was, but only when they shared at least one object. Here, integration of successive action steps was triggered by the re-appearing (shared) object but hampered by a weak goal-relatedness between the actually observed manipulation. These findings foster the recently emerging view that IFG is enhanced by goal-related conflicts during action observation.

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