Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

J Neurosci. 2013 Jan 9;33(2):611-23. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2228-11.2013

Action simulation plays a critical role in deceptive action recognition

The ability to infer deceptive intents from nonverbal behavior is critical for social interactions. By combining single-pulse and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in healthy humans, we provide both correlational and causative evidence that action simulation is actively involved in the ability to recognize deceptive body movements. We recorded motor-evoked potentials during a faked-action discrimination (FAD) task: participants watched videos of actors lifting a cube and judged whether the actors were trying to deceive them concerning the real weight of the cube. Seeing faked actions facilitated the observers' motor system more than truthful actions in a body-part-specific manner, suggesting that motor resonance was sensitive to deceptive movements. Furthermore, we found that TMS virtual lesion to the anterior node of the action observation network, namely the left inferior frontal cortex (IFC), reduced perceptual sensitivity in the FAD task. In contrast, no change in FAD task performance was found after virtual lesions to the left temporoparietal junction (control site). Moreover, virtual lesion to the IFC failed to affect performance in a difficulty-matched spatial-control task that did not require processing of spatiotemporal (acceleration) and configurational (limb displacement) features of seen actions, which are critical to detecting deceptive intent in the actions of others. These findings indicate that the human IFC is critical for recognizing deceptive body movements and suggest that FAD relies on the simulation of subtle changes in action kinematics within the motor system.

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