Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2017 Oct 9. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsx114

Come together: Human-avatar on-line interactions boost joint-action performance in apraxic patients

Limb apraxia (LA) is a high-order motor disorder linked to left-hemisphere damage. It is characterized by defective execution of purposeful actions upon delayed imitation, or verbal command when the actions are performed in isolated, non-naturalistic, conditions. Whether interpersonal interactions provide social affordances that activate neural resources different from those requested by individual action execution, which may improve LA performance, is unknown. To fill this gap we measured performance, behavioral and kinematic indexes of left-brain damaged patients with/without LA in a social reach-to-grasp task involving two different degrees of spatio-temporal interactivity with an avatar. We found that LA patients’ impairment in coordinating with the virtual partner was abolished in highly interactive conditions (where patients selected their actions on-line based on the behavior of the virtual partner) with respect to low interactive conditions (where actions were selected beforehand based on abstract instructions). Voxel-based-Lesion-Symptom-Mapping indicated that impairments in low-interactive conditions were underpinned by lesions of premotor, motor and insular areas, and of the basal ganglia. Our approach expands current understanding of the behavioral and neural correlates of interactive motor performance by highlighting the important role of social affordances, and provides novel, potentially important, views on rehabilitation of higher-order motor cognition disorders.

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