And yet they act together: interpersonal perception modulates visuo-motor interference and mutual adjustments during a joint-grasping task

PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e50223. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050223. Epub 2012 Nov 28.


Prediction of "when" a partner will act and "what" he is going to do is crucial in joint-action contexts. However, studies on face-to-face interactions in which two people have to mutually adjust their movements in time and space are lacking. Moreover, while studies on passive observation have shown that somato-motor simulative processes are disrupted when the observed actor is perceived as an out-group or unfair individual, the impact of interpersonal perception on joint-actions has never been directly addressed. Here we explored this issue by comparing the ability of pairs of participants who did or did not undergo an interpersonal perception manipulation procedure to synchronise their reach-to-grasp movements during: i) a guided interaction, requiring pure temporal reciprocal coordination, and ii) a free interaction, requiring both time and space adjustments. Behavioural results demonstrate that while in neutral situations free and guided interactions are equally challenging for participants, a negative interpersonal relationship improves performance in guided interactions at the expense of the free interactive ones. This was paralleled at the kinematic level by the absence of movement corrections and by low movement variability in these participants, indicating that partners cooperating within a negative interpersonal bond executed the cooperative task on their own, without reciprocally adapting to the partner's motor behaviour. Crucially, participants' performance in the free interaction improved in the manipulated group during the second experimental session while partners became interdependent as suggested by higher movement variability and by the appearance of interference between the self-executed actions and those observed in the partner. Our study expands current knowledge about on-line motor interactions by showing that visuo-motor interference effects, mutual motor adjustments and motor-learning mechanisms are influenced by social perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Communication
  • Hand Strength*
  • Humans
  • Joints
  • Male
  • Movement
  • Perception*
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Perception
  • Software
  • Time Factors
  • Vision, Ocular

Grant support

SMA was funded by the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) programme within FP7 of the European Commission, under FET-Open grant number: 249858, “Tango”; Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) SEED (Prot. Num. 21538); the Ministero Istruzione Università e Ricerca (PRIN 2009). MC was funded by Progetto di Ricerca 2011 University of Rome “Sapienza” (prot. C26A115CM5). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.