Journal of Neuroscience vol:29 issue:44 pages:14026-14038
Recognition of actions and complex movements is fundamental for social interactions and action understanding. While the relationship between motor expertise and visual recognition of body movements has received a vast amount of interest, the role of visual learning remains largely unexplored. Combining psychophysics and fMRI experiments, we investigated neural correlates of visual learning of complex movements. Subjects were trained to visually discriminate between very similar complex movement stimuli generated by motion morphing that were either compatible (Experiments 1 and 2) or incompatible (Experiment 3) with human movement execution. Employing an fMRI adaptation paradigm as index of discriminability, we scanned human subjects before and after discrimination training. The results of Experiment 1 revealed three different effects as a consequence of training; 1) Emerging fMRI-selective adaptation in general motion related areas (hMT/V5+, KO/V3b) for the differences between human-like movements. 2) Enhanced of fMRI-selective adaptation already present before training in biological motion related areas (pSTS, FBA). 3) Changes covarying with task difficulty in frontal areas. Moreover, the observed activity changes were specific to the trained movement patterns (Experiment 2). The results of Experiment 3, testing artificial movement stimuli, were strikingly similar to the results obtained for human movements. General and biological motion related areas showed movement-specific changes in fMRI-selective adaptation for the differences between the stimuli after training. These results support the existence of a powerful visual machinery for the learning of complex motion patterns that is independent of motor execution. We propose thus a key role of visual learning in action recognition.