Study Finds How the Brain Interprets the Intent of Others

Feb 17, 2006

Two Dartmouth researchers have learned more about how the human brain interprets the actions and intentions of others.

Scott Grafton, professor of psychological and brain sciences, and Antonia Hamilton, a post-doctoral fellow, have learned that the brain's parietal cortex handles how we understand the goals of other people's actions. Their study was published on January 25 by The Journal of Neuroscience.

"We were able to find the part of the brain involved in interpreting the goal of another person, even if no words are spoken," says Hamilton. "When you see another person reach for an object that they want, like a cookie, a bit of brain called the anterior intraparietal sulcus, which is found in the parietal lobe, is strongly activated."

She explains that their result is surprising because many would have predicted that the frontal cortex, normally associated with language and understanding, would be activated in this situation, not the parietal cortex, usually thought to be involved with space and movement. Also, Hamilton says that with this study, they have shown it's possible to localize abstract things, like goals, in the brain.

"So, as we learn more about how the brain responds to seeing other people do things, we can start to understand the neural basis of human social interactions. This may help us understand what goes wrong in impaired social interactions, like in children with autism, who sometimes fail to interpret actions correctly."

The study involved twenty participants who watched a series of short movies, shown in a random order, while their brain activity was measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The movies depicted a hand reaching, grasping, and taking one of two objects. For example, a hand takes a cookie or takes a computer disk. The participants then answered yes or no questions that elicited their understanding of the goals involved of the actions represented in movies.

Source: Dartmouth College

Explore further: Mapping the world's linguistic diversity—scientists discover links between your genes and the language you speak

Related Stories

Lefties are all right with kangaroos

Jun 18, 2015

Kangaroos prefer to use one of their hands over the other for everyday tasks in much the same way that humans do, with one notable difference: generally speaking, kangaroos are lefties. The finding, reported ...

Lending a hand, or a paw—what drives us to help others?

Jun 04, 2015

Our social connections and social compass define us to a large degree as human. Indeed, our tendency to act to benefit others without benefit to ourselves is regarded by some as the epitome of human nature and culture. But ...

Recommended for you

Lady, you're on the money

Jul 03, 2015

So far, women whose portraits appear on U.S. money have been a party of three. Excluding commemorative currency, only Sacagawea, Susan B. Anthony and Helen Keller appear on coins in general circulation, according ...

Old World monkey had tiny, complex brain

Jul 03, 2015

The brain hidden inside the oldest known Old World monkey skull has been visualized for the first time. The creature's tiny but remarkably wrinkled brain supports the idea that brain complexity can evolve ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.