Direction-sensitive codes for observed head turns in human superior temporal sulcus.

08 Nov 2017

Humans and other primates are adept at using the direction of another's gaze or head turn to infer where that individual is attending. Research in macaque neurophysiology suggests that anterior superior temporal sulcus (STS) contains a direction-sensitive code for such social attention cues. By contrast, most human functional Magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies report that posterior STS is responsive to social attention cues. It is unclear whether this functional discrepancy is caused by a species difference or by experimental design differences. Furthermore, social attention cues are dynamic in naturalistic social interaction, but most studies to date have been restricted to static displays. In order to address these issues, we used multivariate pattern analysis of fMRI data to test whether response patterns in human right STS distinguish between leftward and rightward dynamic head turns. Such head turn discrimination was observed in right anterior STS/superior temporal gyrus (STG). Response patterns in this region were also significantly more discriminable for head turn direction than for rotation direction in physically matched ellipsoid control stimuli. Our findings suggest a role for right anterior STS/STG in coding the direction of motion in dynamic social attention cues.