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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

January 1, 2003, Vol. 15, No. 1, Pages 30-46
(doi: 10.1162/089892903321107800)
© 2003 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Actions Speak Louder Than Functions: The Importance of Manipulability and Action in Tool Representation
Article PDF (1.98 MB)

PET was used to investigate the neural correlates of action knowledge in object representations, particularly the left lateralized network of activations previously implicated in the processing of tools and their associated actions: ventral premotor cortex (VPMCx), posterior middle temporal gyrus (PMTG), and intraparietal sulcus (IPS). Judgments were made about the actions and functions associated with manipulable man-made objects (e.g., hammer); this enabled us to measure activations in response to both explicit and implicit retrieval of knowledge about actions associated with manipulable tools. Function judgments were also made about nonmanipulable artifacts (e.g., traffic light) providing a direct comparison for manipulable objects. Although neither the left VPMCx nor the left PMTG were selective for tool stimuli (nonmanipulable objects also activated these areas relative to a visual control condition), both regions responded more strongly to manipulable objects, suggesting a role for these cortical areas in the processing of knowledge associated with tools. Furthermore, these activations were insensitive to retrieval task, suggesting that visually presented tools automatically recruit both left VPMCx and left PMTG in response to action features that are inherent in tool representations. In contrast, the IPS showed clear selectivity for explicit retrieval of action information about manipulable objects. No regions of cortex were more activated by function relative to action judgments about artifacts. These results are consistent with the brain's preferential responsiveness to how we interact with objects, rather than what they are used for.