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Neuroimage. 2007;36 Suppl 2:T119-27. Epub 2007 Mar 31.

The neural basis for understanding non-intended actions.

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Department of Neuroscience, Section of Physiology, University of Parma, Via Volturno 31, 43100 Parma, Italy.


We can often understand when actions done by others do or do not reflect their intentions. To investigate the neural basis of this capacity we carried out an fMRI study in which volunteers were presented with video-clips showing actions that did reflect the intention of the agent (intended actions) and actions that did not (non-intended actions). Observation of both types of actions activated a common set of areas including the inferior parietal lobule, the lateral premotor cortex and mesial premotor areas. The contrast non-intended vs. intended actions showed activation in the right temporo-parietal junction, left supramarginal gyrus, and mesial prefrontal cortex. The converse contrast did not show any activation. We conclude that our capacity to understand non intended actions is based on the activation of areas signaling unexpected events in spatial and temporal domains, in addition to the activity of the mirror neuron system. The concomitant activation of mesial prefrontal areas, known to be involved in self-referential processing, might reflect how deeply participants are involved in the observed scenes.

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