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Neuroimage. 2011 May 1;56(1):373-83. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.01.058. Epub 2011 Jan 26.

The neurophysiology of human biological motion processing: a high-density electrical mapping study.

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  • 1Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, Program in Cognitive Neuroscience and Schizophrenia, Orangeburg, NY 10962, USA.


The neural processing of biological motion (BM) is of profound experimental interest since it is often through the movement of another that we interpret their immediate intentions. Neuroimaging points to a specialized cortical network for processing biological motion. Here, high-density electrical mapping and source-analysis techniques were employed to interrogate the timing of information processing across this network. Participants viewed point-light-displays depicting standard body movements (e.g. jumping), while event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded and compared to ERPs to scrambled motion control stimuli. In a pair of experiments, three major phases of BM-specific processing were identified: 1) The earliest phase of BM-sensitive modulation was characterized by a positive shift of the ERP between 100 and 200 ms after stimulus onset. This modulation was observed exclusively over the right hemisphere and source-analysis suggested a likely generator in close proximity to regions associated with general motion processing (KO/hMT). 2) The second phase of BM-sensitivity occurred from 200 to 350 ms, characterized by a robust negative-going ERP modulation over posterior middle temporal regions bilaterally. Source-analysis pointed to bilateral generators at or near the posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS). 3) A third phase of processing was evident only in our second experiment, where participants actively attended the BM aspect of the stimuli, and was manifest as a centro-parietal positive ERP deflection, likely related to later cognitive processes. These results point to very early sensory registration of biological motion, and highlight the interactive role of the posterior STS in analyzing the movements of other living organisms.

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