When You’re Observing, Your Intentions Matter

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What your intentions are—whether you plan to simply observe someone perform an action, or to execute the action yourself—changes how the observed information is processed by the brain, reports PsychCentral:

“Scott Frey of the University of Oregon and his team took fMRI scans of study participants while watched films of other people building or taking apart objects using parts of Tinker Toys.

Brain scans of those simply watching were compared against scans from those planning to copy the actions in the correct order afterwards. Frey found that observing with the intention to copy used parts of the brain that also are used when learning by physically doing the activity.

The participants’ accuracy in reproducing the actions a few minutes later was predicted by the amount of activity in the intraparietal sulcus (IPS), which is in the parietal lobe. This backs up previous findings that the IPS is involved in the processing of others’ intentions.

When the participants were asked to watch a film and copy the actions, but not necessarily in the same order, activity in these brain regions increased to a lesser extent. Frey believes that activity in the IPS may act as a ‘thermometer’ to show how well a person is translating what they are seeing into plans for action.

‘What appears vital is the intention of the observer, rather than simply the visual stimulus that is being viewed,’ he said. ‘If the goal is to be able to do what you are seeing, then it appears that activity through your motor system is up-regulated substantially.’” (Read more here.)

It’s fascinating to me that simply intending to copy another’s actions changes how we process our perceptions of those actions. A good reminder of how very important intentions and motivations are.

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