Cues to intention bias action perception toward the most efficient trajectory

Katrina L. McDonough, Matthew Hudson, Patric Bach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Humans interpret others’ behaviour as intentional and expect them to take the most energy-efficient path to achieve their goals. Recent studies show that these expectations of efficient action take the form of a prediction of an ideal “reference” trajectory, against which observed actions are evaluated, distorting their perceptual representation towards this expected path. Here we tested whether these predictions depend upon the implied intentionality of the stimulus. Participants saw videos of an actor reaching either efficiently (straight towards an object or arched over an obstacle) or inefficiently (straight towards obstacle or arched over empty space). The hand disappeared mid-trajectory and participants reported the last seen position on a touch-screen. As in prior research, judgments of inefficient actions were biased toward efficiency expectations (straight trajectories upwards to avoid obstacles, arched trajectories downward towards goals). In two further experimental groups, intentionality cues were removed by replacing the hand with a non-agentive ball (group 2), and by removing the action’s biological motion profile (group 3). Removing these cues substantially reduced perceptual biases. Our results therefore confirm that the perception of others’ actions is guided by expectations of efficient actions, which are triggered by the perception of semantic and motion cues to intentionality.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6472
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019

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