Action Prediction Laboratory

Action Prediction Laboratory

What are the cognitive and neural mechanisms by which we are able to anticipate the actions of others?

Recent neuroimaging research has identified an “Action Observation Network” that encompasses a distributed network of brain areas that are implicated in the perception of other people’s actions. This network includes several visual areas that are highly sensitive to not only the movements of other people but also the cues that convey the goals and intentions underlying the action (for example, the Superior Temporal Suclus). Anticipating the actions of others based on these cues could therefore be subserved by these specialised visual areas.

However, the Action Observation Network also includes sensorimotor areas that are implicated not only in the perception of other people’s actions, but also when one performs these actions. This so called “Mirror Neuron System” in the Prefrontal and Motor cortices was first identified in macaque monkeys using single cell recordings. Subsequent neuroimaging research has identified a similar system in humans. Such a system could enable the actions of others to be mapped onto our own action production systems, providing a mental simulation of others actions.

The role(s) that this system plays in our social lives has been much debated, but a covert replication of others action would undoubtedly enhance our predictions of other people’s actions. We aim to address the question of whether action anticipation is one of the possible functions of the Mirror neuron System in humans, or whether such an ability is based solely on perceptual processes.

Thompson, J. & Parasuraman, R. 2012. Attention, biological motion, and action recognition. NeuroImage, 59, 4-13