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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

November 2005, Vol. 17, No. 11, Pages 1744-1752
(doi: 10.1162/089892905774589253)
© 2005 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Regional Brain Activation Evoked When Approaching a Virtual Human on a Virtual Walk
Article PDF (8.75 MB)

We investigated the necessity of biological motion for activation of the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) in circumstances in which the rapid approach of the observer to a virtual human induced the observer to make inferences about the characters intentions. Using a virtual reality environment, subjects experienced themselves walking towards a complex scene composed of animate and/or inanimate objects. During “person” trials, the scene contained a virtual human either making a simple gesture such as scratching his face (Study 1) or standing completely still (Study 2). During “object” trials, the scenes contained items such as furniture, a face portrait, and a clock, but not the virtual human. Using functional MRI to measure brain activity, we demonstrated strong activity in the pSTS while the observer approached the social scene, but only when the virtual human was making gestures. This result emphasizes the importance of biological motion in inferring the intentions of others.