Brain monitoring of errors in one's own and other's actions is crucial for a variety of processes, ranging from the fine-tuning of motor skill learning to important social functions, such as reading out and anticipating the intentions of others. Here, we combined immersive virtual reality and EEG recording to explore whether embodying the errors of an avatar by seeing it from a first-person perspective may activate the error monitoring system in the brain of an onlooker. We asked healthy participants to observe, from a first- or third-person perspective, an avatar performing a correct or an incorrect reach-to-grasp movement toward one of two virtual mugs placed on a table. At the end of each trial, participants reported verbally how much they embodied the avatar's arm. Ratings were maximal in first-person perspective, indicating that immersive virtual reality can be a powerful tool to induce embodiment of an artificial agent, even through mere visual perception and in the absence of any cross-modal boosting. Observation of erroneous grasping from a first-person perspective enhanced error-related negativity and medial-frontal theta power in the trials where human onlookers embodied the virtual character, hinting at the tight link between early, automatic coding of error detection and sense of embodiment. Error positivity was similar in 1PP and 3PP, suggesting that conscious coding of errors is similar for self and other. Thus, embodiment plays an important role in activating specific components of the action monitoring system when others' errors are coded as if they are one's own errors.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: Detecting errors in other's actions is crucial for social functions, such as reading out and anticipating the intentions of others. Using immersive virtual reality and EEG recording, we explored how the brain of an onlooker reacted to the errors of an avatar seen from a first-person perspective. We found that mere observation of erroneous actions enhances electrocortical markers of error detection in the trials where human onlookers embodied the virtual character. Thus, the cerebral system for action monitoring is maximally activated when others' errors are coded as if they are one's own errors. The results have important implications for understanding how the brain can control the external world and thus creating new brain-computer interfaces.