Effects of the social context on the neurophysiological correlates of observed error monitoring


Maria Pyasik, Maddalena Beccherle, Federica Faraoni, Rachele Pezzetta,
Valentina Moro


Monitoring the motor performance of others, including the correctness of their actions, is crucial for the human behavior. However, while performance (and error) monitoring of the own actions has been studied extensively at the neurophysiological level, the corresponding studies on monitoring of others’ errors are scarce, especially for ecological actions. Moreover, the role of the context of the observed action has not been sufficiently explored. To fill this gap, the present study investigated electroencephalographic (EEG) indices of error monitoring during observation of images of interrupted reach-to-grasp actions in social (an object held in another person’s hand) and non-social (an object placed on a table) contexts. Analysis in time- and time-frequency domain showed that, at the level of conscious error awareness, there were no effects of the social context (observed error positivity was present for erroneous actions in both contexts). However, the effects of the context were present at the level of hand image processing: observing erroneous actions in the non-social context was related to larger occipito-temporal N1 and theta activity, while in the social context this pattern was reversed, i.e., larger N1 and theta activity were present for the correct actions. These results suggest that, in case of easily predictable ecological actions, action correctness is processed as early as at the level of hand image perception, since the hand posture conveys information about the action (e.g., motor intention). The social context of actions might make the correct actions more salient, possibly through the saliency of the correctly achieved common goal.

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