A goal bias in action: The boundaries adults perceive in events align with sites of actor intent

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2017 Jun;43(6):916-927. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000364. Epub 2017 Jan 12.


We live in a dynamic world comprised of continuous events. Remembering our past and predicting future events, however, requires that we segment these ongoing streams of information in a consistent manner. How is this segmentation achieved? This research examines whether the boundaries adults perceive in events, such as the Olympic figure skating routine used in these studies, align with the beginnings (sources) and endings (goals) of human goal-directed actions. Study 1 showed that a group of experts, given an explicit task with unlimited time to rewatch the event, identified the same subevents as one another, but with greater agreement as to the timing of goals than sources. In Study 2, experts, novices familiarized with the figure skating sequence, and unfamiliarized novices performed an online event segmentation task, marking boundaries as the video progressed in real time. The online boundaries of all groups corresponded with the sources and goals offered by Study 1's experts, with greater alignment of goals than sources. Additionally, expertise, but not mere perceptual familiarity, boosted the alignment of sources and goals. Finally, Study 3, which presented novices with the video played in reverse, indicated, unexpectedly, that even when spatiotemporal cues were disrupted, viewers' perceived event boundaries still aligned with their perception of the actors' intended sources and goals. This research extends the goal bias to event segmentation, and suggests that our spontaneous sensitivity toward goals may allow us to transform even relatively complex and unfamiliar event streams into structured and meaningful representations. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Athletes
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motion Perception*
  • Practice, Psychological
  • Professional Competence
  • Social Perception
  • Sports
  • Theory of Mind
  • Video Recording