Observation of another person’s actions and feelings activates brain areas that support similar functions in the observer, thereby facilitating inferences about the other’s mental and bodily states. In real life, events eliciting this kind of vicarious brain activations are intermingled with other complex, ever-changing stimuli in the environment. One practical approach to study the neural underpinnings of real-life vicarious perception is to image brain activity during movie viewing. Here the goal was to find out how observed haptic events in a silent movie would affect the spectator’s sensorimotor cortex. The functional state of the sensorimotor cortex was monitored by analyzing, in 16 healthy subjects, magnetoencephalographic (MEG) responses to tactile finger stimuli that were presented once per second throughout the session. Using canonical correlation analysis and spatial filtering, consistent single-trial responses across subjects were uncovered, and their waveform changes throughout the movie were quantified. The long-latency (85–175 ms) parts of the responses were modulated in concordance with the participants’ average moment-by-moment ratings of own engagement in the haptic content of the movie (correlation r50.49; ratings collected after the MEG session). The results, obtained by using novel signal-analysis approaches, demonstrate that the functional state of the human sensorimotor cortex fluctuates in a fine-grained manner even during passive observation of temporally varying haptic events.
- somatosensory cortex
- Magnetoencephalography (MEG)
- canonical correlation analysis
- spatial filtering
- human brain