The observation of goal-directed actions performed by another individual allows one to understand what that individual is doing and why he/she is doing it. Important information about others' behaviour is also carried out by the dynamics of the observed action. Action dynamics characterize the 'vitality form' of an action describing the cognitive and affective relation between the performing agent and the action recipient. Here, using the fMRI technique, we assessed the neural correlates of vitality form recognition presenting participants with videos showing two actors executing actions with different vitality forms: energetic and gentle. The participants viewed the actions in two tasks. In one task (what), they had to focus on the goal of the presented action; in the other task (how), they had to focus on the vitality form. For both tasks, activations were found in the action observation/execution circuit. Most interestingly, the contrast how vs what revealed activation in right dorso-central insula, highlighting the involvement, in the recognition of vitality form, of an anatomical region connecting somatosensory areas with the medial temporal region and, in particular, with the hippocampus. This somatosensory-insular-limbic circuit could underlie the observers' capacity to understand the vitality forms conveyed by the observed action.
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