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Visibly constraining an agent modulates observers’ automatic false-belief tracking

journal contribution
posted on 16.09.2021, 22:55 by Jason LowJason Low, K Edwards, SA Butterfill
Our motor system can generate representations which carry information about the goals of another agent’s actions. However, it is not known whether motor representations play a deeper role in social understanding, and, in particular, whether they enable tracking others’ beliefs. Here we show that, for adult observers, reliably manifesting an ability to track another’s false belief critically depends on representing the agent’s potential actions motorically. One signature of motor representations is that they can be disrupted by constraints on an observed agent’s action capacities. We therefore used a ‘mummification’ technique to manipulate whether the agent in a visual ball-detection task was free to act or whether he was visibly constrained from acting. Adults’ reaction times reliably reflected the agent’s beliefs only when the agent was free to act on the ball and not when the agent was visibly constrained from acting. Furthermore, it was the agent’s constrained action capabilities, rather than any perceptual novelty, that determined whether adult observers’ reaction times reliably reflected the agent’s beliefs. These findings signal that our motor system may underpin more of social cognition than previously imagined, and, in particular, that motor representations may underpin automatic false-belief tracking.

History

Preferred citation

Low, J., Edwards, K. & Butterfill, S. A. (2020). Visibly constraining an agent modulates observers’ automatic false-belief tracking. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 11311-. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-68240-7

Journal title

Scientific Reports

Volume

10

Issue

1

Publication date

01/12/2020

Pagination

11311

Publisher

Springer Science and Business Media LLC

Publication status

Published

Online publication date

09/07/2020

ISSN

2045-2322

eISSN

2045-2322

Article number

11311

Language

en