Objects with motor valence affect the visual processing of human body parts: Evidence from behavioural and ERP studies
Carlacci De Mattia, Lucilla
Recent findings indicate that the mental representation of an object contains crucial information about the motor interactions relevant for its intended functional use, suggesting a possible action-specific link with body effectors. For example, in the visual system, the extrastriate body area (EBA) responds to full body and body part images according to a functional/semantic organizational principle. However, the pliancy of the relationship between objects and body parts remains under-investigated. The present study aims to i) investigate this relationship more directly by assessing whether recognition of specific body parts can be facilitated by a brief exposure to functionally-related objects (Experiment 1) and ii) whether the functional relationship between objects and body parts modulates a posterior body-sensitive ERP waveform, peaking around 200 msec, and the more centro-parietal P300, linked to item categorization processes and visual awareness (Experiment 2). Participants were asked to quickly recognize targets (pictures of hands or feet) preceded by a functionally related (e.g., drum for hand target), unrelated (e.g., drum for foot target), or neutral (e.g., unknown object for both targets) prime. Findings showed that participants’ performance was significantly more accurate with related than unrelated primes and that ERP amplitudes were modulated by the relationship between the prime and the target. These findings confirm the existence of action-specific links between objects and body parts and expand on recent findings on categorical organization of neural responses to human effectors in the visual system.