Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Priming of Hand and Foot Response: Is Spatial Attention to the Body Site Enough?

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Priming of Hand and Foot Response: Is Spatial Attention to the Body Site Enough?

Article excerpt

Published online: 30 June 2015

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract The purpose of the present study was to test whether we see evidence for body compatibility effects when viewing both familiar and unusual body postures. Specifically, in a task where colour targets have to be discriminated, we tested whether spatial orienting to a body site is sufficient for effects of body compatibility to emerge when viewing a task-irrelevant body or whether effects are dependent on whether or not we are able to adopt the viewed body posture. The results suggest that spatial orienting to a body site is insufficient; rather we argue that it is only postures that are familiar and we are easily able to adopt that can be processed fluently and influence target discrimination. This points to a key contribution of motor representations to body compatibility effects.

Keywords Body-part priming . Automatic imitation . Spatial priming . Motor expertise

Introduction

The observation of someone else's action facilitates similar actions in the observer: an intransitive action, such as a finger (Brass, Bekkering, Wohlschläger, & Prinz, 2000)orhand (Press, Bird, Walsh, & Heyes, 2008; Stürmer, Ascherleben, & Prinz, 2000) movement will facilitate the response of the same finger/hand in the observer. Similar effects have been shown across body parts, such as hand/foot (Gillmeister, Catmur, Liepelt, Brass, & Heyes, 2008; Wiggett, Hudson, Tipper, & Downing, 2011; Wiggett, Downing, & Tipper, 2013) and hand/mouth (Leighton & Heyes, 2010). This often is called automatic imitation as the effect of compatibility between observed and executed action is evident even when the observed action is irrelevant to the task (e.g., participants are responding to a colour or letter presented at the same time as the action). The underlying mechanism is thought to be the automatic activation of motor representations of topographically similar actions to those being observed-a process possibly mediated by the mirror neuron system (see Heyes, 2011 for recent review).

Bach, Peatfield, and Tipper (2007) reported two further important findings: first, "action" compatibility effects are evident even when static images of whole human bodies with no implied motion (images of a person standing up or sitting down) are viewed. Second, spatial attention has to be directed towards the body site for these body compatibility effects to emerge. Because the stimuli used by Bach et al. did not contain any actual to-be-imitated movement, we refer to the resulting effects as body compatibility effects rather than automatic imitation.

To investigate body-based compatibility effects, Bach et al. (2007) used naturalistic photographs of whole bodies. A coloured dot was superimposed on the hand or foot of the person in the photograph. This coloured dot instructed the participant to respond either with the hand or the foot (the location of the dot was task-irrelevant). The authors found that reaction times were faster on compatible trials (when the correct response was, e.g., a hand response and the dot was presented on the hand) compared with incompatible trials (e.g., a hand response when a colour dot was presented on the foot), suggesting that just orienting attention to a certain body part led to facilitation of the response with that same body part. However, there is a spatial confound in the Bach et al. study. The authors presented only typical body postures where the hands were spatially above the feet. This means that the body parts in the image had the same spatial relationship as the body parts the participant uses to respond (hands above feet). A number of studies looking at automatic imitation have explicitly tested for effects of spatial compatibility and whether automatic imitation effects can be explained simply by an alignment of body and spatial frames. These studies show that automatic imitation is not reducible to spatial compatibility (Brass, Bekkering & Prinz, 2001; Catmur & Heyes, 2011; Press et al. …

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