C5 E
Prof. Dr. Bornkessel-Schlesewsky and Prof. Dr. Hegele

A mind divided? The animate-inanimate distinction in action and language perception

Overall, the findings from C5 so far support the notion of animate, or more specifically human, agency being a stand-out feature in the perception of our environment. In C5, we proposed a theoretical model of incremental sentence processing using a hierarchically organized set of internal models in the postero-dorsal auditory stream (Bornkessel-Schleswesky et al., 2015), and subsequently showed that verbal and nominal cues interact in establishing the actor concept in linguistically expressed intransitive events. More specifically, we found longer reading times and increased N400 amplitudes in case of a mismatch between verb preference (for animate agency) and animacy of the actor argument. Analogous to actor identity and motion verbs in the sentence comprehension experiments, we also found a network of prefrontal areas, the supplementary eye fields and the cerebellum showing increased activity when expected human agency behind an observed ambiguous action was combined with a nonbiological action kinematics (Gertz, Hilger, Hegele, & Fiehler, 2016). The common link in the perceptual processing of actions across different modalities might indeed be predictive forward models and thus can be conceived as a proxy for the interaction between the cardinal mechanisms of categorization and prediction.

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Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, I., Schlesewsky, M., Small, S. L., & Rauschecker, J. P. (2015). Neurobiological roots of language in primate audition: common computational properties. Trends in cognitive sciences, 19(3), 142-150.
Gertz, H., Hilger, M., Hegele, M.*, & Fiehler, K.* (2016). Violating instructed human agency: An fMRI study on ocular tracking of biological and nonbiological motion stimuli. Neuroimage, 138, 109-122. (*shared last authorship) find paper DOI