Experts see it all: configural effects in action observation
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Biological motion perception is influenced by observers’ familiarity with the observed action. Here, we used classical dance as a means to investigate how visual and motor experience modulates perceptual mechanism for configural processing of actions. Although some ballet moves are performed by only one gender, male and female dancers train together and acquire visual knowledge of all ballet moves. Twenty-four expert ballet dancers (12 female) and matched non-expert participants viewed pairs of upright and inverted point light female and common dance movements. Visual discrimination between different exemplars of the same movement presented upright was significantly better in experts than controls, whilst no differences were found when the same stimuli were presented upside down. These results suggest expertise influences configural action processing. Within the expert group, effects were stronger for female participants than for males, whilst no differences were found between movement types. This observer gender effect could suggest an additional role for motor familiarity in action perception, over and above the visual experience. Our results are consistent with a specific motor contribution to configural processing of action.
We are grateful to Andrea Serino, Corinne Jola and Manos Tsakiris for initial discussion, to Emma Redding and Laban (London) for help in preparing the stimuli and to the dancers that participated in this study. BC-M and PH were supported by grants from the Leverhulme Trust. BC-M was further supported by the Economical and Social Research Council (ESRC—PTA-026-27-1587) and a City University Fellowship (City University London).
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