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Cereb Cortex. 2008 Aug;18(8):1876-85. Epub 2007 Dec 7.

Paying attention to social meaning: an FMRI study.

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Instituto de Biofísica e Engenharia Biomédica, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, Campo Grande, 1749-016 Lisboa, Portugal.


Animations of simple geometric shapes are readily interpreted as animate agents engaged in meaningful social interactions. Such animations have been shown to activate brain regions implicated in the detection of animate motion, in understanding the intentions of others as well as areas commonly linked to the processing of social and emotional information. However, attribution of animacy does not occur under all circumstances and the precise conditions under which specific regions are activated remains unclear. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging study we manipulated viewers' perspective to assess the part played by selective attention. Participants were cued to attend either to spatial properties of the movements or to the kind of social behavior it could represent. Activations that occurred to the initial cue, while observing the animations themselves and while responding to a postpresentation probe, were analyzed separately. Results showed that activity in the social brain network was strongly influenced by selective attention, and that remarkably similar activations were seen during film viewing and in response to probe questions. Our use of stimuli supporting rich and diverse social narratives likely enhanced the influence of top-down processes on neural activity in the social brain.

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