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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

September 2009, Vol. 21, No. 9, Pages 1805-1819
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2008.21145)
© 2008 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Visual Adaptation to Goal-directed Hand Actions
Article PDF (361.47 KB)

Prolonged exposure to visual stimuli, or adaptation, often results in an adaptation “aftereffect” which can profoundly distort our perception of subsequent visual stimuli. This technique has been commonly used to investigate mechanisms underlying our perception of simple visual stimuli, and more recently, of static faces. We tested whether humans would adapt to movies of hands grasping and placing different weight objects. After adapting to hands grasping light or heavy objects, subsequently perceived objects appeared relatively heavier, or lighter, respectively. The aftereffects increased logarithmically with adaptation action repetition and decayed logarithmically with time. Adaptation aftereffects also indicated that perception of actions relies predominantly on view-dependent mechanisms. Adapting to one action significantly influenced the perception of the opposite action. These aftereffects can only be explained by adaptation of mechanisms that take into account the presence/absence of the object in the hand. We tested if evidence on action processing mechanisms obtained using visual adaptation techniques confirms underlying neural processing. We recorded monkey superior temporal sulcus (STS) single-cell responses to hand actions. Cells sensitive to grasping or placing typically responded well to the opposite action; cells also responded during different phases of the actions. Cell responses were sensitive to the view of the action and were dependent upon the presence of the object in the scene. We show here that action processing mechanisms established using visual adaptation parallel the neural mechanisms revealed during recording from monkey STS. Visual adaptation techniques can thus be usefully employed to investigate brain mechanisms underlying action perception.