Distinct neural substrates for the perception of real and virtual visual worlds.
Han S., Jiang Y., Humphreys GW., Zhou T., Cai P.
Virtual environments have been frequently used for training and skill improvement. However, do real and virtual worlds engage the same brain states in human perceivers? We measured brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while adults watched movie and cartoon clips, simulating real and virtual visual worlds, respectively. Relative to baselines using random static images, the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and the cerebellum were activated only by movie clips of other humans. In contrast, cartoon clips of human and non-human agents activated the superior parietal lobes, while movie clips of animals also activated the superior parietal lobes. Our fMRI findings suggest that the perception of real-world humans is characterised by the involvement of MPFC and the cerebellum, most likely for on-line representation of the mental states of others, whereas the perception of virtual-world agents engages the parietal cortex in attention to actions.