Psychological Research

, Volume 83, Issue 1, pp 116–131 | Cite as

The dynamics of the interrelation of perception and action across the life span

  • Stephanie WermelingerEmail author
  • Anja Gampe
  • Moritz M. Daum
Original Article


Successful social interaction relies on the interaction partners’ perception, anticipation and understanding of their respective actions. The perception of a particular action and the capability to produce this action share a common representational ground. So far, no study has explored the interrelation between action perception and production across the life span using the same tasks and the same measurement techniques. This study was designed to fill this gap. Participants between 3 and 80 years (N = 214) observed two multistep actions of different familiarities and then reproduced the according actions. Using eye tracking, we measured participants’ action perception via their prediction of action goals during observation. To capture subtler perceptual processes, we additionally analysed the dynamics and recurrent patterns within participants’ gaze behaviour. Action production was assessed via the accuracy of the participants’ reproduction of the observed actions. No age-related differences were found for the perception of the familiar action, where participants of all ages could rely on previous experience. In the unfamiliar action, where participants had less experience, action goals were predicted more frequently with increasing age. The recurrence in participants’ gaze behaviour was related to both, age and action production: gaze behaviour was more recurrent (i.e. less flexible) in very young and very old participants, and lower levels of recurrence (i.e. greater flexibility) were related to higher scores in action production across participants. Incorporating a life-span perspective, this study illustrates the dynamic nature of developmental differences in the associations of action production with action perception.



During the work on her dissertation, Stephanie Wermelinger was a pre-doctoral fellow of the International Max Planck Research School on the Life Course (LIFE,; participating institutions: Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, University of Zurich). This project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant Number: S-63216-03-01). We thank the participants and their parents for their participation. We also thank Jean Bernardsgrütter, Jannis Behr, Gaja Furrer, Christina Herzog, Vanessa Marti, Vanessa Meili and Jan Nussbaumer for their help with the data collection and coding.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. All procedures were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants or their parents (for children until 16 years of age) included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephanie Wermelinger
    • 1
    Email author
  • Anja Gampe
    • 1
  • Moritz M. Daum
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Neuroscience Center ZurichUniversity of Zurich and ETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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