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Observing human movements helps decoding environmental forces

Abstract

Vision of human actions can affect several features of visual motion processing, as well as the motor responses of the observer. Here, we tested the hypothesis that action observation helps decoding environmental forces during the interception of a decelerating target within a brief time window, a task intrinsically very difficult. We employed a factorial design to evaluate the effects of scene orientation (normal or inverted) and target gravity (normal or inverted). Button-press triggered the motion of a bullet, a piston, or a human arm. We found that the timing errors were smaller for upright scenes irrespective of gravity direction in the Bullet group, while the errors were smaller for the standard condition of normal scene and gravity in the Piston group. In the Arm group, instead, performance was better when the directions of scene and target gravity were concordant, irrespective of whether both were upright or inverted. These results suggest that the default viewer-centered reference frame is used with inanimate scenes, such as those of the Bullet and Piston protocols. Instead, the presence of biological movements in animate scenes (as in the Arm protocol) may help processing target kinematics under the ecological conditions of coherence between scene and target gravity directions.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Giuseppe Cotignola and Riccardo De Marco for help with the setup and the experiments. We thank the reviewers of Experimental Brain Research for many helpful suggestions leading to the final version of the manuscript. The work was supported by the Italian Health Ministry and Italian Space Agency (CRUSOE grant). W. L. M. was formerly affiliated with the Santa Lucia Foundation and is now affiliated with the National Science Foundation, but the work described in this manuscript does not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation or the United States Government.

Author information

Correspondence to Myrka Zago.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Movies in the supplementary material present a low-resolution and simplified version of the actual animations for the Arm protocol. Movie labels identify the conditions A–D. In all cases, the ball was correctly intercepted. Four different characters are depicted in each scene. During the actual experiments, six different characters were randomly used in each trial of each condition (see Methods) (MOV 354 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (MOV 396 kb)

Supplementary material 3 (MOV 395 kb)

Supplementary material 4 (MOV 397 kb)

Movies in the supplementary material present a low-resolution and simplified version of the actual animations for the Arm protocol. Movie labels identify the conditions A–D. In all cases, the ball was correctly intercepted. Four different characters are depicted in each scene. During the actual experiments, six different characters were randomly used in each trial of each condition (see Methods) (MOV 354 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (MOV 396 kb)

Supplementary material 3 (MOV 395 kb)

Supplementary material 4 (MOV 397 kb)

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Zago, M., La Scaleia, B., Miller, W.L. et al. Observing human movements helps decoding environmental forces. Exp Brain Res 215, 53 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-011-2871-0

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Keywords

  • Interception
  • Pictorial
  • Scene inversion
  • Gravity