Interplay Between Conceptual Expectations and Movement Predictions Underlies Action Understanding.
Ondobaka S., de Lange FP., Wittmann M., Frith CD., Bekkering H.
Recent accounts of understanding goal-directed action underline the importance of a hierarchical predictive architecture. However, the neural implementation of such an architecture remains elusive. In the present study, we used functional neuroimaging to quantify brain activity associated with predicting physical movements, as they were modulated by conceptual-expectations regarding the purpose of the object involved in the action. Participants observed object-related actions preceded by a cue that generated both conceptual goal expectations and movement goal predictions. In 2 tasks, observers judged whether conceptual or movement goals matched or mismatched the cue. At the conceptual level, expected goals specifically recruited the posterior cingulate cortex, irrespectively of the task and the perceived movement goal. At the movement level, neural activation of the parieto-frontal circuit, including inferior frontal gyrus and the inferior parietal lobe, reflected unpredicted movement goals. Crucially, this movement prediction error was only present when the purpose of the involved object was expected. These findings provide neural evidence that prior conceptual expectations influence processing of physical movement goals and thereby support the hierarchical predictive account of action processing.