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People watching: visual, motor, and social processes in the perception of human movement

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Abstract

Successful social behavior requires the accurate perception and interpretation of other peoples' actions. In the last decade, significant progress has been made in understanding how the human visual system analyzes bodily motion. Neurophysiological studies have identified two neural areas, the superior temporal sulcus (STS) and the premotor cortex, which play key roles in the visual perception of human movement. Patterns of neural activity in these areas are reflective of psychophysical measures of visual sensitivity to human movement. Both vary as a function of stimulus orientation and global stimulus structure. Human observers and STS responsiveness share some developmental similarities as both exhibit sensitivities that become increasingly tuned for upright, human movement. Furthermore, the observer's own visual and motor experience with an action as well as the social and emotional content of that action influence behavioral measures of visual sensitivity and patterns of neural activity in the STS and premotor cortex. Finally, dysfunction of motor processes, such as hemiplegia, and dysfunction of social processes, such as Autism, systematically impact visual sensitivity to human movement. In sum, a convergence of visual, motor, and social processes underlies our ability to perceive and interpret the actions of other people. WIREs Cogn Sci 2011 2 68–78 DOI: 10.1002/wcs.88

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