Binding Action and Emotion in Social Understanding

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Abstract

In social life actions are tightly linked with emotions. The integration of affective- and action-related information has to be considered as a fundamental component of appropriate social understanding. The present functional magnetic resonance imaging study aimed at investigating whether an emotion (Happiness, Anger or Neutral) dynamically expressed by an observed agent modulates brain activity underlying the perception of his grasping action. As control stimuli, participants observed the same agent either only expressing an emotion or only performing a grasping action. Our results showed that the observation of an action embedded in an emotional context (agent's facial expression), compared with the observation of the same action embedded in a neutral context, elicits higher neural response at the level of motor frontal cortices, temporal and occipital cortices, bilaterally. Particularly, the dynamic facial expression of anger modulates the re-enactment of a motor representation of the observed action. This is supported by the evidence that observing actions embedded in the context of anger, but not happiness, compared with a neutral context, elicits stronger activity in the bilateral pre-central gyrus and inferior frontal gyrus, besides the pre-supplementary motor area, a region playing a central role in motor control. Angry faces not only seem to modulate the simulation of actions, but may also trigger motor reaction. These findings suggest that emotions exert a modulatory role on action observation in different cortical areas involved in action processing. © 2013 Ferri et al.

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Ferri, F., Ebisch, S. J. H., Costantini, M., Salone, A., Arciero, G., Mazzola, V., … Gallese, V. (2013). Binding Action and Emotion in Social Understanding. PLoS ONE, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0054091

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