Skip to main content
Log in

Contextual determinants of the social-transfer-of-learning effect

  • Research Article
  • Published:
Experimental Brain Research Aims and scope Submit manuscript


A recent study (Milanese et al. in Cogn 116(1):15–22, 2010) showed that performing a spatial compatibility task with incompatible S–R links (i.e., the practice task) alongside a co-actor eliminates the Simon effect in a subsequent joint Simon task (i.e., the transfer task). In the present study, we conducted three experiments to individuate which elements of the practice task need to remain constant for this social-transfer-of-learning to occur. In Experiment 1, participants performed the practice task alongside a co-actor and the Simon task with a different co-actor; in Experiment 2, they performed the practice task alongside a co-actor and the Simon task with the same co-actor after exchanging their seats. Results showed a modulation of the joint Simon effect in Experiment 1 only. In Experiment 2, we found a regular joint Simon effect. These results indicate that, while co-actor identity is not crucial, other elements of the context, such as keeping the same position across tasks, are necessary for the social-transfer-of-learning to occur. On the whole, our data suggest that the social-transfer-of-learning effect is not tuned to a specific co-actor and depends on spatial parameters of the practice and transfer tasks.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. With respect to the Milanese et al.’s (2010) study, the present study did not test the joint Simon effect in a baseline condition because we were interested in comparing the contextual features of the practice and transfer sessions without any confounds deriving from the baseline contextual features.


  • Atmaca S, Sebanz N, Knoblich G (submitted) Believed it or not: sharing tasks with real, imagined an un-intentional co-actors. Exp Brain Res

  • Bratman M (1999) Faces of intention. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Chartrand TL, Bargh JA (1999) The chameleon effect: the perception-behavior link and social interaction. J Pers Soc Psychol 76(6):893–910

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • De Jong R, Liang C, Lauber E (1994) Conditional and unconditional automaticity: a dual-process model of effects of spatial stimulus–response correspondence. J Exp Psychol Hum 20:731–750

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Figliozzi F, Silvetti M, Rubichi S, Doricchi F (2010) Determining priority between attentional and referential-coding sources of the Simon effect through optokinetic stimulation. Neuropsychologia 48:1011–1015

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Godden DR, Baddeley AD (1975) Context-dependent memory in two natural environments: land and underwater. Br J Psychol 66:325–331

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Guagnano D, Rusconi E, Umiltà C (2010) Sharing a task or sharing space? On the effect of a confederate in action coding. Cogn 114:348–355

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hommel B, Colzato LS, van den Wildenberg WPM (2009) How social are task representations? Psychol Sci 20:794–798

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Iani C, Rubichi S, Gherri E, Nicoletti R (2009) Co-occurrence of sequential and practice effects in the Simon task: evidence for two independent mechanisms affecting response selection. Mem Cogn 37:358–367

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Iani C, Anelli F, Nicoletti R, Arcuri L, Rubichi S (in press).The role of group membership on the modulation of joint action. Exp Brain Res

  • Knoblich G, Jordan JS (2003) Action coordination in groups and individuals: learning anticipatory control. J Exp Psychol Learn 29(5):1006–1016

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kuhbandner C, Pekrum R, Maier MA (2010) The role of positive and negative affect in the ‘mirroring’ of other person’s actions. Cogn Emot 24:1182–1190

    Google Scholar 

  • Leist A (2007) Action in context. De Gruyter, Berlin

    Google Scholar 

  • Marini M, Iani C, Nicoletti R, Rubichi S (in press). Between-task transfer-of-learning from spatial compatibility to a color Stroop task. Exp Psychol

  • Milanese N, Iani C, Rubichi S (2010) Shared learning shapes human performance: transfer effects in task sharing. Cogn 116(1):15–22

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pellicano A, Iani C, Rubichi S, Ricciardelli P, Borghi AM, Nicoletti R (2010) Real life motor training modifies spatial performance. Am J Psychol 123(2):169–179

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Proctor RW, Lu CH (1999) Processing irrelevant location information: practice and transfer effect in choice-reaction tasks. Mem Cogn 27:63–77

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Proctor RW, Vu KPL (2006) Stimulus–response compatibility principles: data, theory, and practice. Taylor & Francis, Boca Raton, FL

    Google Scholar 

  • Richardson MJ, Marsh KL, Baron RM (2007) Judging and actualizing intrapersonal and interpersonal affordances. J Exp Psychol Hum 33:845–859

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rubichi S, Pellicano A (2004) Does the Simon effect affect movement execution? Eur J Cogn Psychol 16(6):825–840

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rubichi S, Nicoletti R, Umiltà CU, Zorzi M (2000) Response strategies and the Simon effect. Psychol Res 63:129–136

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Sebanz N, Knoblich G, Prinz W (2003) Representing others’ actions: just like one’s own? Cogn 88:B11–B21

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sebanz N, Knoblich G, Prinz W (2005) How two share a task: corepresenting stimulus–response mappings. J Exp Psychol Hum 31:1234–1246

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shockley K, Santana MV, Fowler CA (2003) Mutual interpersonal postural constraints are involved in cooperative conversation. J Exp Psychol Hum 29(2):326–332

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Simon JR, Rudell AP (1967) Auditory S–R compatibility: the effect of an irrelevant cue on information processing. J Appl Psychol 51:300–304

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Smith SM (1988) Environmental context-dependent memory. In: Thomson D (ed) Memory in context: context in memory. Wiley, New York, pp 13–34

    Google Scholar 

  • Smith SM, Vela E (2001) Environmental context-dependent memory: a review and meta-analysis. Psychon Bull Rev 8(2):203–220

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Stoutland F (1998) The real reasons. In: Bransen Cuypers (ed) Human action, deliberation and causation. Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp 43–66

    Google Scholar 

  • Tagliabue M, Zorzi M, Umiltà C, Bassignani F (2000) The role of LTM links and STM links in the Simon effect. J Exp Psychol Hum 26:648–670

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Tsai CC, Kuo WJ, Hung DL, Tzeng OJL (2008) Action co-representation is tuned to other humans. J Cogn Neurosci 20:2015–2024

    Google Scholar 

  • Wallace RJ (1971) S–R compatibility and the idea of a response code. J Exp Psychol 88:354–360

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Welsh TN (2009) When 1 + 1 = 1: the unification of independent actors revealed through joint Simon effects in crossed and uncrossed effector conditions. Hum Mov Sci 28:726–737

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Welsh TN, Higgins L, Ray M, Weeks DJ (2007) Seeing vs. believing: is believing sufficient to activate the process of response co-representation? Hum Mov Sci 26:853–866

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by MIUR PRIN (project 2008ZN5J5S). We wish to thank Luca Ferraro for helping with data collection for Experiment 1, Claudia Chiavarino and one anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments on an earlier version of the paper.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sandro Rubichi.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Milanese, N., Iani, C., Sebanz, N. et al. Contextual determinants of the social-transfer-of-learning effect. Exp Brain Res 211, 415–422 (2011).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: