We investigated whether observation of actions reproduced in three-dimensional virtual reality would engage perceptual and visuomotor brain processes different from those induced by the observation of real hand actions. Participants were asked to passively observe grasping actions of geometrical objects made by a real hand or by hand reconstructions of different quality in 3D virtual reality as well as on a 2D TV screen. We found that only real actions in natural environment activated a visuospatial network including the right posterior parietal cortex. Observation of virtual-reality hand actions engaged prevalent visual perceptual processes within lateral and mesial occipital regions. Thus, only perception of actions in reality maps onto existing action representations, whereas virtual-reality conditions do not access the full motor knowledge available to the central nervous system.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.