Dr Michiko Yoshie and her colleagues Professor Hugo Critchley, Dr Neil Harrison, and Dr Yoko Nagai were able to pinpoint the brain area that causes the performance mishaps during an experiment using functional magnetic resonance neuroimaging (fMRI).
In their study, published in Scientific Reports, participants’ brain activity was monitored while carrying out a task that required them to exert a precise amount of force when gripping an object. Participants reported that they felt more anxious when they believed they were being observed. Under this condition, they gripped the object harder without realising it.
Scan results showed that an area of the brain that helps us to control our fine sensorimotor functions, the inferior parietal cortex (IPC), became deactivated when people felt they were being observed.
It is thought this part of the brain works together with another region, the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), to form what neuroscientists refer to as the action-observation network (AON). The AON is involved in “mentalisation” processes by which we infer what another person is thinking, based on their facial expressions and direction of gaze.