Isolating Action Prediction from Action Integration in the Perception of Social Interactions

Ana Pesquita*, Ulysses Bernardet, Bethany E. Richards, Ole Jensen, Kimron Shapiro

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research suggests that predictive mechanisms are essential in perceiving social interactions. However, these studies did not isolate action prediction (a priori expectations about how partners in an interaction react to one another) from action integration (a posteriori processing of both partner’s actions). This study investigated action prediction during social interactions while controlling for integration confounds. Twenty participants viewed 3D animations depicting an action−reaction interaction between two actors. At the start of each action−reaction interaction, one actor performs a social action. Immediately after, instead of presenting the other actor’s reaction, a black screen covers the animation for a short time (occlusion duration) until a still frame depicting a precise moment of the reaction is shown (reaction frame). The moment shown in the reaction frame is either temporally aligned with the occlusion duration or deviates by 150 ms or 300 ms. Fifty percent of the action−reaction trials were semantically congruent, and the remaining were incongruent, e.g., one actor offers to shake hands, and the other reciprocally shakes their hand (congruent action−reaction) versus one actor offers to shake hands, and the other leans down (incongruent action−reaction). Participants made fast congruency judgments. We hypothesized that judging the congruency of action−reaction sequences is aided by temporal predictions. The findings supported this hypothesis; linear speed-accuracy scores showed that congruency judgments were facilitated by a temporally aligned occlusion duration, and reaction frames compared to 300 ms deviations, thus suggesting that observers internally simulate the temporal unfolding of an observed social interction. Furthermore, we explored the link between participants with higher autistic traits and their sensitivity to temporal deviations. Overall, the study offers new evidence of prediction mechanisms underpinning the perception of social interactions in isolation from action integration confounds.
Original languageEnglish
Article number432
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons
Attribution (CC BY) license (

Funding Information: This research was supported by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Independent Postdoctoral Fellowship to AP (Between Two Brains—799238), and a Wellcome Trust (Investigator Award in Science grant number 207550) to O.J.


  • social interaction
  • action integration
  • action prediction
  • autistic traits


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