Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Previous work suggests that perception of an object automatically facilitates actions related to object grasping and manipulation. Recently, the notion of automaticity has been challenged by behavioral studies suggesting that dangerous objects elicit aversive affordances that interfere with encoding of an object's motor properties; however, related EEG studies have provided little support for these claims. We sought EEG evidence that would support the operation of an inhibitory mechanism that interferes with the motor encoding of dangerous objects, and we investigated whether such mechanism would be modulated by the perceived distance of an object and the goal of a given task. EEGs were recorded by 24 participants who passively perceived dangerous and neutral objects in their peripersonal, boundary, or extrapersonal space and performed either a reachability judgment task or a categorization task. Our results showed that greater attention, reflected in the visual P1 potential, was drawn by dangerous and reachable objects. Crucially, a frontal N2 potential, associated with motor inhibition, was larger for dangerous objects only when participants performed a reachability judgment task. Furthermore, a larger parietal P3b potential for dangerous objects indicated the greater difficulty in linking a dangerous object to the appropriate response, especially when it was located in the participants' extrapersonal space. Taken together, our results show that perception of dangerous objects elicits aversive affordances in a task-dependent way and provides evidence for the operation of a neural mechanism that does not code affordances of dangerous objects automatically, but rather on the basis of contextual information.