Motor inhibition to dangerous objects: Electrophysiological evidence for task-dependent aversive affordances



Mustile M, Giocondo F, Caligiore D, Borghi A & Kourtis D (2021) Motor inhibition to dangerous objects: Electrophysiological evidence for task-dependent aversive affordances. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 33 (5), pp. 826-839.

Previous work suggests that perception of an object automatically facilitates actions related to object grasping and manipulation. Recently, the notion of automaticity has been challenged by behavioral studies suggesting that dangerous objects elicit aversive affordances that interfere with encoding of an object’s motor properties; however, related electrophysiological studies have provided little support for these claims. We sought EEG evidence that would support the operation of an inhibitory mechanism that interferes with the motor encoding of dangerous objects and we investigated whether such mechanism would be modulated by the perceived distance of an object and the goal of a given task. Electroencephalograms were recorded by 24 participants who passively perceived dangerous and neutral objects in their peripersonal, boundary or extrapersonal space and performed either a reachability judgment task or a categorization task. Our results showed that greater attention, reflected in the visual P1 potential, was drawn by dangerous and reachable objects. Crucially, a frontal N2 potential, associated with motor inhibition, was larger for dangerous objects only when participants performed a reachability judgment task. Furthermore, a larger parietal P3b potential for dangerous objects indicated the greater difficulty in linking a dangerous object to the appropriate response, especially when it was located in the participants’ extrapersonal space. Taken together, our results show that perception of dangerous objects elicits aversive affordances in a task-dependent way and provides evidence for the operation of a neural mechanism that does not code affordances of dangerous objects automatically, but rather on the basis of contextual information.

EEG; perception; contextual information; object affordances; dangerous objects

Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience: Volume 33, Issue 5

Publication date31/05/2021
Publication date online01/04/2021
Date accepted by journal15/01/2021

People (2)


Dr Dimitrios Kourtis

Dr Dimitrios Kourtis

Lecturer, Psychology

Miss Magda Mustile

Miss Magda Mustile

Tutor (ASF), Psychology