How instructions modify perception: An fMRI study investigating brain areas involved in attributing human agency

James Stanley, Emma Gowen, R. Christopher Miall

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Behavioural studies suggest that the processing of movement stimuli is influenced by beliefs about the agency behind these actions. The current study examined how activity in social and action related brain areas differs when participants were instructed that identical movement stimuli were either human or computer generated. Participants viewed a series of point-light animation figures derived from motion-capture recordings of a moving actor, while functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to monitor patterns of neural activity. The stimuli were scrambled to produce a range of stimulus realism categories; furthermore, before each trial participants were told that they were about to view either a recording of human movement or a computer-simulated pattern of movement. Behavioural results suggested that agency instructions influenced participants' perceptions of the stimuli. The fMRI analysis indicated different functions within the paracingulate cortex: ventral paracingulate cortex was more active for human compared to computer agency instructed trials across all stimulus types, whereas dorsal paracingulate cortex was activated more highly in conflicting conditions (human instruction, low realism or vice versa). These findings support the hypothesis that ventral paracingulate encodes stimuli deemed to be of human origin, whereas dorsal paracingulate cortex is involved more in the ascertainment of human or intentional agency during the observation of ambiguous stimuli. Our results highlight the importance of prior instructions or beliefs on movement processing and the role of the paracingulate cortex in integrating prior knowledge with bottom-up stimuli. © 2010 Elsevier Inc.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)389-400
    Number of pages11
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2010


    • Agency
    • Biological motion
    • Mirror neurons
    • Paracingulate cortex
    • Superior temporal sulcus


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