Abstract

Previous imaging work has shown that the superior temporal sulcus (STS) region and the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) are specifically activated during the passive observation of shifts in eye gaze [Pelphrey, K. A., Singerman, J. D., Allison, T., & McCarthy, G. Brain activation evoked by perception of gaze shifts: The influence of context. Neuropsychologia, 41, 156–170, 2003; Hoffman, E. A., & Haxby, J. V. Distinct representations of eye gaze and identity in the distributed human neural system for face perception. Nature Neuroscience, 3, 80–84, 2000; Puce, A., Allison, T., Bentin, S., Gore, J. C., & McCarthy, G. Temporal cortex activation in humans viewing eye and mouth movements. Journal of Neuroscience, 18, 2188–2199, 1998; Wicker, B., Michel, F., Henaff, M. A., & Decety, J. Brain regions involved in the perception of gaze: A PET study. Neuroimage, 8, 221–227, 1998]. Are the same brain regions also involved in extracting gaze direction in order to establish joint attention? In an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment, healthy human subjects actively followed the directional cue provided by the eyes of another person toward an object in space or, in the control condition, used a nondirectional symbolic cue to make an eye movement toward an object in space. Our results show that the posterior part of the STS region and the cuneus are specifically involved in extracting and using detailed directional information from the eyes of another person to redirect one's own gaze and establish joint attention. The IPS, on the other hand, seems to be involved in encoding spatial direction and mediating shifts of spatial attention independent of the type of cue that triggers this process.

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