Perceiving animacy purely from visual motion cues involves intraparietal sulcus

Johannes Schultz, Heinrich H. Bülthoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Distinguishing animate from inanimate objects is fundamental for social perception in humans and animals. Visual motion cues indicative of self-propelled object motion are useful for animacy perception: they can be detected over a wide expanse of visual field, at distance and in low visibility conditions, can attract attention and provide clues about object behaviour. However, the neural correlates of animacy perception evoked exclusively by visual motion cues, i.e. not relying on form, background or visual context, are unclear. We aimed to address this question in four psychophysical experiments in humans, two of which performed during neuroimaging. The stimulus was a single dot with constant form that moved on a blank background and evoked controlled degrees of perceived animacy through parametric variations of self-propelled motion cues. BOLD signals reflecting perceived animacy in a graded manner irrespective of eye movements were found in one intraparietal region. Additional whole-brain and region-of-interest analyses revealed no comparable effects in brain regions associated with social processing or other areas. Our study shows that animacy perception evoked solely by visual motion cues, a basic perceptual process in social cognition, engages brain regions not primarily associated with social cognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-132
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Aug 15

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Max Planck Society . The authors declare no financial interests or conflicts of interest. The data and the code used in the study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. Data and code sharing comply with the requirements of the Max Planck Society and comply with approval by the University of Tübingen ethics board .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019


  • Animacy perception
  • Psychophysics
  • Visual motion
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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