Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Previous research has provided evidence for a neural system underlying the observation of another person's hand actions. Is the neural system involved in this capacity also important in inferring another person's motor intentions toward an object from their eye gaze? In real-life situations, humans use eye movements to catch and direct the attention of others, often without any accompanying hand movements or speech. In an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging study, subjects observed videos showing a human model either grasping a target object (grasping condition) or simply gazing (gaze condition) at the same object. These two conditions were contrasted with each other and against a control condition in which the human model was standing behind the object without performing any gazing or grasping action. The results revealed activations within the dorsal premotor cortex, the inferior frontal gyrus, the inferior parietal lobule, and the superior temporal sulcus in both “grasping” and “gaze” conditions. These findings suggest that signaling the presence of an object through gaze elicits in an observer a similar neural response to that elicited by the observation of a reach-to-grasp action performed on the same object.