Cerebral Cortex Advance Access published online on August 28, 2007
Cerebral Cortex, doi:10.1093/cercor/bhm150
The simple action of pressing a switch has many possible interpretations—the actor could be turning on a light, deleting critical files from a computer, or even turning off a life-support system. In each of these cases, the motor parameters of the action are the same but the physical outcome differs. We report evidence of suppressed responses in right inferior parietal and right inferior frontal cortex when participants saw repeated movies showing the same action outcome, but these regions did not distinguish the kinematic parameters by which the action was accomplished. Thus, these brain areas encode the physical outcomes of human actions in the world. These results are compatible with a hierarchical model of human action understanding in which a cascade of specialized processes from occipital to parietal and frontal regions allow humans to understand the physical consequences of actions in the world and the intentions underlying those actions.