Perceiving affect from arm movement

Cognition. 2001 Dec;82(2):B51-61. doi: 10.1016/s0010-0277(01)00147-0.


We examined the visual perception of affect from point-light displays of arm movements. Two actors were instructed to perform drinking and knocking movements with ten different affects while the three-dimensional positions of their arms were recorded. Point-light animations of these natural movements and phase-scrambled, upside-down versions of the same knocking movements were shown to participants who were asked to categorize the affect of the display. In both cases the resulting confusion matrices were analyzed using multidimensional scaling. For the natural movements the resulting two-dimensional psychological space was similar to a circumplex with the first dimension appearing as activation and the second dimension as pleasantness. For the scrambled displays the first dimension was similar in structure to that obtained for the natural movements but the second dimension was not. With both natural and scrambled movements Dimension 1 of the psychological space was highly correlated to the kinematics of the movement. These results suggest that the corresponding activation of perceived affect is a formless cue that relates directly to the movement kinematics while the pleasantness of the movement appears to be carried in the phase relations between the different limb segments.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Movement*
  • Nonverbal Communication*
  • Social Perception*