Cereb Cortex. 2021 Feb 25:bhab029. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhab029. Online ahead of print.
The posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) is a brain region characterized by perceptual representations of human body actions that promote the understanding of observed behavior. Increasingly, action observation is recognized as being strongly shaped by the expectations of the observer (Kilner 2011; Koster-Hale and Saxe 2013; Patel et al. 2019). Therefore, to characterize top-down influences on action observation, we evaluated the statistical structure of multivariate activation patterns from the action observation network (AON) while observers attended to the different dimensions of action vignettes (the action kinematics, goal, or identity of avatars jumping or crouching). Decoding accuracy varied as a function of attention instruction in the right pSTS and left inferior frontal cortex (IFC), with the right pSTS classifying actions most accurately when observers attended to the action kinematics and the left IFC classifying most accurately when observed attended to the actor’s goal. Functional connectivity also increased between the right pSTS and right IFC when observers attended to the actions portrayed in the vignettes. Our findings are evidence that the attentive state of the viewer modulates sensory representations in the pSTS, consistent with proposals that the pSTS occupies an interstitial zone mediating top-down context and bottom-up perceptual cues during action observation.