Not what you do but how you do it

I have been interested in communication using non-verbal channels for some time. Communication through posture, facial expression, gesture, tone of voice is an intriguing subject. Lately I have encountered another channel, vitality forms of actions. A particular action, say handing something to another person, can be done in a number of ways implying rudeness, caring, anger, generosity etc. A person’s actions can have a goal and an intent but can also give hints as to their state of mind or emotions during the action. Of course, we can be conscious, or not, of giving signals and conscious, or not, of receiving them – but there is communication none the less.

There is a new paper on this subject which I can not access. And there is an older similar paper which I have been able to read. The two citations are with the abstracts below. The research has looked at what differs in actions that have different vitality forms: time profile, force, space, direction. The diagram illustrates the difference between energetic and gentle action.

vitality graphs

vitality graphs

The stimuli were presented to the participants in pairs of consecutive videos, where the observed action (what) and vitality (how) could be the same or changed between video-pairs. To counterbalance all what–how possibilities, four different combinations of action-vitality were created: (i) same action-same vitality; (ii) same action-different vitality; (iii) different action-same vitality and (iv) different action-different vitality. All video combinations were presented in two tasks. The what task required the participants to pay attention to the type of action observed in the two consecutive videos and to decide whether the represented action was the same or different regardless of vitality form. The how task required the participants to pay attention to the vitality form and to decide whether the represented vitality was the same or different between the two consecutive videos regardless of the type of action performed.

A number of areas of the brain are active during an action but only one was active with ‘how’ and not ‘what’ tasks. This was the right dorso-central insula.

Here is the abstract of the older paper (Giuseppe Di Cesare, Cinzia Di Dio, Magali J. Rochat, Corrado Sinigaglia, Nadia Bruschweiler-Stern, Daniel N. Stern, Giacomo Rizzolatti; The neural correlates of ‘vitality’ recognition: a fMRI study; Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 2014, 9 (7): 951-60) The observation of goal-directed actions performed by another individual allows one to understand what that individual is doing and why he/she is doing it. Important information about others behaviour is also carried out by the dynamics of the observed action. Action dynamics characterize the vitality form of an action describing the cognitive and affective relation between the performing agent and the action recipient. Here, using the fMRI technique, we assessed the neural correlates of vitality form recognition presenting participants with videos showing two actors executing actions with different vitality forms: energetic and gentle. The participants viewed the actions in two tasks. In one task (what), they had to focus on the goal of the presented action; in the other task (how), they had to focus on the vitality form. For both tasks, activations were found in the action observation/execution circuit. Most interestingly, the contrast how vs what revealed activation in right dorso-central insula, highlighting the involvement, in the recognition of vitality form, of an anatomical region connecting somatosensory areas with the medial temporal region and, in particular, with the hippocampus. This somatosensory-insular-limbic circuit could underlie the observers capacity to understand the vitality forms conveyed by the observed action

And the abstract of the newer paper ( Di Cesare G, Di Dio C, Marchi M, Rissolatti G; Expressing our internal states and understand those of others; Proc Natl Acad Sci 2015) Vitality form is a term that describes the style with which motor actions are performed (e.g., rude, gentle, etc.). They represent one characterizing element of conscious and unconscious bodily communication. Despite their importance in interpersonal behavior, vitality forms have been, until now, virtually neglected in neuroscience. Here, using the functional MRI (fMRI) technique, we investigated the neural correlates of vitality forms in three different tasks: action observation, imagination, and execution. Conjunction analysis showed that, in all three tasks, there is a common, consistent activation of the dorsocentral sector of the insula. In addition, a common activation of the parietofrontal network, typically active during arm movements production, planning, and observation, was also found. We conclude that the dorsocentral part of the insula is a key element of the system that modulates the cortical motor activity, allowing individuals to express their internal states through action vitality forms. Recent monkey anatomical data show that the dorsocentral sector of the insula is, indeed, connected with the cortical circuit involved in the control of arm movements. correlates of vitality forms in three tasks: action observation, imagination, and execution. We found that, in all three tasks, there is a common specific activation of the dorsocentral sector of the insula in addition to the parietofrontal network that is typically active during arm movements production and observation. Thus, the dorsocentral part of the insula seems to represent a fundamental and previously unsuspected node that modulates the cortical motor circuits, allowing individuals to express their vitality forms and understand those of others.

Included graph is Fig S2 of the paper – Giuseppe Di Cesare, Cinzia Di Dio, Magali J. Rochat, Corrado Sinigaglia, Nadia Bruschweiler-Stern, Daniel N. Stern, Giacomo Rizzolatti; The neural correlates of ‘vitality’ recognition: a fMRI study; Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 2014, 9 (7): 951-60

Here is the caption for the graph: Fig. 2 Kinematic and dynamic profiles associated with one of the actions (passing a bottle) performed by the female actress with the two vitality forms (gentle; energetic). (A) Velocity profiles (y-axes) and duration (x-axes). (B) Trajectories (gentle, green line; energetic, red line). (C) Potential energy (blue line), that is the energy that the actress gave to the object during the lifting phase of the action; kinetic energy (red line), that is the energy that the actress gave to the object to move it with a specific velocity from the start to the end point. (D) Power required to perform the action on the object in an energetic (blue solid line) and gentle (blue dashed line) vitalities. As it can be observed in the graphs, the vitality forms gentle and energetic generally differ from each other on each of the tested parameters.

 

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