Neural mechanisms of understanding rational actions: Middle temporal gyrus activation by contextual violation

Jan Jastorff, Simon Clavagnier, György Gergely, Guy A. Orban

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

44 Citations (Scopus)


Performing goal-directed actions toward an object in accordance with contextual constraints, such as the presence or absence of an obstacle, has been widely used as a paradigm for assessing the capacity of infants or nonhuman primates to evaluate the rationality of others' actions. Here, we have used this paradigm in a functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment to visualize the cortical regions involved in the assessment of action rationality while controlling for visual differences in the displays and directly correlating magnetic resonance activity with rationality ratings. Bilateral middle temporal gyrus (MTG) regions, anterior to extrastriate body area and the human middle temporal complex, were involved in the visual evaluation of action rationality. These MTG regions are embedded in the superior temporal sulcus regions processing the kinematics of observed actions. Our results suggest that rationality is assessed initially by purely visual computations, combining the kinematics of the action with the physical constraints of the environmental context. The MTG region seems to be sensitive to the contingent relationship between a goal-directed biological action and its relevant environmental constraints, showing increased activity when the expected pattern of rational goal attainment is violated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)318-329
Number of pages12
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2011



  • MTG
  • extrastriate cortex
  • functional imaging
  • human
  • vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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