The perception of prototypical motion: synchronization is enhanced with quantitatively morphed gestures of musical conductors

J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2012 Dec;38(6):1390-403. doi: 10.1037/a0028130. Epub 2012 Apr 16.


Aesthetic theories have long suggested perceptual advantages for prototypical exemplars of a given class of objects or events. Empirical evidence confirmed that morphed (quantitatively averaged) human faces, musical interpretations, and human voices are preferred over most individual ones. In this study, biological human motion was morphed and tested for prototype effects in task-specific actions, perceptual judgments, and kinematic characteristics. A motion capture system recorded the movements of six novice and six expert orchestral conductors while they performed typical beat patterns in time with a metronome. Point-light representations of individual conductors and morphs of experts, novices, and a grand average morph were generated. In a repeated-measures sensorimotor synchronization paradigm, participants tapped a finger in time with the conducting and provided evaluations of the gestures' characteristics. Quantitatively averaged conducting motion resulted in reduced jerk (i.e., smoother motion) as well as higher synchronization accuracy and tapping consistency. Perceived beat clarity and quality of the gestures correlated with the timing of vertical acceleration in the conductors' movements. While gestures of individual conductors were perceived to be more expressive, morphs appeared more conventional. Thus, due to smoother spatiotemporal profiles of morphs, perception and action advantages were observed for prototypes that are presumably based both on motor resonance mechanisms and cognitive representations.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Esthetics*
  • Female
  • Gestures*
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Movement
  • Music*
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Space Perception
  • Time Perception
  • Visual Perception*