Getting a grip on reality: Grasping movements directed to real objects and images rely on dissociable neural representations.
Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior
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In the current era of touchscreen technology, humans commonly execute visually guided actions directed to two-dimensional (2D) images of objects. Although real, three-dimensional (3D), objects and images of the same objects share high degree of visual similarity, they differ fundamentally in the actions that can be performed on them. Indeed, previous behavioral studies have suggested that simulated grasping of images relies on different representations than actual grasping of real 3D objects. Yet the neural underpinnings of this phenomena have not been investigated. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how brain activation patterns differed for grasping and reaching actions directed toward real 3D objects compared to images. Multivoxel Pattern Analysis (MVPA) revealed that the left anterior intraparietal sulcus (aIPS), a key region for visually guided grasping, discriminates between both the format in which objects were presented (real/image) and the motor task performed on them (grasping/reaching). Interestingly, during action planning, the representations of real 3D objects versus images differed more for grasping movements than reaching movements, likely because grasping real 3D objects involves fine-grained planning and anticipation of the consequences of a real interaction. Importantly, this dissociation was evident in the planning phase, before movement initiation, and was not found in any other regions, including motor and somatosensory cortices. This suggests that the dissociable representations in the left aIPS were not based on haptic, motor or proprioceptive feedback. Together, these findings provide novel evidence that actions, particularly grasping, are affected by the realness of the target objects during planning, perhaps because real targets require a more elaborate forward model based on visual cues to predict the consequences of real manipulation.