Taking apart what brings us together: The role of action prediction, perspective-taking, and theory of mind in joint action

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2022 Jul;75(7):1228-1243. doi: 10.1177/17470218211050198. Epub 2021 Oct 20.


The ability to act together with others to achieve common goals is crucial in life, yet there is no full consensus on the underlying cognitive skills. While influential theoretical accounts suggest that interaction requires sophisticated insights into others' minds, alternative views propose that high-level social skills might not be necessary because interactions are grounded on sensorimotor predictive mechanisms. At present, empirical evidence is insufficient to decide between the two. This study addressed this issue and explored the association between performance at joint action tasks and cognitive abilities in three domains-action prediction, perspective-taking, and theory of mind-in healthy adults (N = 58). We found that, while perspective-taking played a role in reading the behaviour of others independently of the social context, action prediction abilities specifically influenced the agents' performance in an interactive task but not in a control (social but non-interactive) task. In our study, performance at a theory of mind test did not play any role, as confirmed by Bayesian analyses. The results suggest that, in adults, sensorimotor predictive mechanisms might play a significant and specific role in supporting interpersonal coordination during motor interactions. We discuss the implications of our findings for the contrasting theoretical views described earlier and propose a way they might be partly reconciled.

Keywords: Joint action; action prediction; perspective-taking; social cognition; theory of mind.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Problem Solving
  • Theory of Mind*