Giving, but not taking, actions are spontaneously represented as social interactions: Evidence from modulation of lower alpha oscillations

TitleGiving, but not taking, actions are spontaneously represented as social interactions: Evidence from modulation of lower alpha oscillations
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsYin, J., D. Tatone, and G. Csibra
Journal titleNeuropsychologia
Year2020
Pages107363
Volume139
Issue2
Abstract

Unlike taking, which can be redescribed in non-social and object-directed terms, acts of giving are invariably expressed across languages in a three-argument structure relating agent, patient, and object. Developmental evidence suggests this difference in the syntactic entailment of the patient role to be rooted in a prelinguistic understanding of giving as a patient-directed, hence obligatorily social, action. We hypothesized that minimal cues of possession transfer, known to induce this interpretation in preverbal infants, should similarly encourage adults to perceive the patient of giving, but not taking, actions as integral participant of the observed event, even without cues of overt involvement in the transfer. To test this hypothesis, we measured a known electrophysi- ological correlate of action understanding (the suppression of alpha-band oscillations) during the observation of giving and taking events, under the assumption that the functional grouping of agent and patient should have induced greater suppression that the representation of individual object-directed actions. As predicted, the observation of giving produced stronger lower alpha suppression than superficially similar acts of object disposal, whereas no difference emerged between taking from an animate patient or an inanimate target. These results suggest that the participants spontaneously represented giving, but not kinematically identical taking actions, as social interactions, and crucially restricted this interpretation to transfer events featuring animate patients. This evidence gives empirical traction to the idea that such asymmetry, rather than being an inter- pretive propensity circumscribed to the first year of life, is attributable to an ontogenetically stable system dedicated to the efficient identification of interactions based on active transfer.

ISSN0028-3932
LanguageEnglish
DOI10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2020.107363
Publisher linkhttps://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2020.107363
Unit: 
Cognitive Development Center (CDC)
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