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Susanne Quadflieg, Francesco Gentile, Bruno Rossion; Making Sense of Others: The Neural Correlates of Perceiving Person Interactions. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):31. doi: 10.1167/12.9.31.
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How social expectations shape our perception of people surrounding us has long been considered a core issue in vision science. What has not yet attracted widespread empirical attention, is the question of how perceivers make sense of others who are not encountered in isolation. Put differently, whether people shake hands, take a walk, or have a conversation, they are often witnessed in each other’s company. At what stage in the person perception process does sensitivity to such interactions (and their inherent narrative) arise? To explore this issue, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure neural activity while participants viewed images of two people presented on a uniform background. The shown agents were either interacting socially (e.g., involved in a marriage proposal or saying goodbye to each other) or not interacting. Non-interactions were created by presenting the exact same agents as in the interaction condition but not facing each other or by randomly pairing agents facing each other. Compared to these two control conditions, meaningful social interactions elicited reduced activity in cortical areas associated with person perception (e.g., the posterior temporal sulcus) and person understanding (e.g., the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex). In line with neural models of predictive coding facilitating information processing, these results support the view that social expectations shape the way our brains make sense of interacting others not only at an inferential level but also at a perceptual processing stage. More generally, these findings begin to elucidate the perception of person interactions in the human brain.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012
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