The Representation of Object-Directed Action and Function Knowledge in the Human Brain

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The appropriate use of everyday objects requires the integration of action and function knowledge. Previous research suggests that action knowledge is represented in frontoparietal areas while function knowledge is represented in temporal lobe regions. Here we used multivoxel pattern analysis to investigate the representation of object-directed action and function knowledge while participants executed pantomimes of familiar tool actions. A novel approach for decoding object knowledge was used in which classifiers were trained on one pair of objects and then tested on a distinct pair; this permitted a measurement of classification accuracy over and above object-specific information. Region of interest (ROI) analyses showed that object-directed actions could be decoded in tool-preferring regions of both parietal and temporal cortex, while no independently defined tool-preferring ROI showed successful decoding of object function. However, a whole-brain searchlight analysis revealed that while frontoparietal motor and peri-motor regions are engaged in the representation of object-directed actions, medial temporal lobe areas in the left hemisphere are involved in the representation of function knowledge. These results indicate that both action and function knowledge are represented in a topographically coherent manner that is amenable to study with multivariate approaches, and that the left medial temporal cortex represents knowledge of object function.

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