Psychology

You Did It, It Did It

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Science  01 Jun 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5829, pp. 1257
DOI: 10.1126/science.316.5829.1257b

One of the many kinds of psychological processing we perform effortlessly is the recognition of actions as being motivated by animate versus inanimate agents. Two groups of brain areas have been proposed to subserve this function: the mirror neuron system and the social network. Mirror neurons become active both when a person performs an action and when a person observes that action being performed by another. Neurons within the social network become active in social contexts, such as during the assessment of emotion in others, or while imagining another's state of mind. Wheatley et al. examined the differential activation of these networks under conditions in which the central figure and its movements remained constant, but the backgrounds were changed to bias the interpretations of the scene as representing animate or inanimate agency. The mirror neuron system does indeed engage in the neural processing of motion, during both observation and imagination of the figure. On the other hand, the brain areas within the social network are specifically more active when people perceive the motion as biological or animate. GJC

Psychol. Sci. 18, 469 (2007).

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