Social interaction relies on the ability to react to communication signals. Although cortical sensory-motor "mirror" networks are thought to play a key role in visual aspects of primate communication, evidence for a similar generic role for auditory-motor interaction in primate nonverbal communication is lacking. We demonstrate that a network of human premotor cortical regions activated during facial movement is also involved in auditory processing of affective nonverbal vocalizations. Within this auditory-motor mirror network, distinct functional subsystems respond preferentially to emotional valence and arousal properties of heard vocalizations. Positive emotional valence enhanced activation in a left posterior inferior frontal region involved in representation of prototypic actions, whereas increasing arousal enhanced activation in presupplementary motor area cortex involved in higher-order motor control. Our findings demonstrate that listening to nonverbal vocalizations can automatically engage preparation of responsive orofacial gestures, an effect that is greatest for positive-valence and high-arousal emotions. The automatic engagement of responsive orofacial gestures by emotional vocalizations suggests that auditory-motor interactions provide a fundamental mechanism for mirroring the emotional states of others during primate social behavior. Motor facilitation by positive vocal emotions suggests a basic neural mechanism for establishing cohesive bonds within primate social groups.
Pubmed ID: 17167096 RIS Download
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