From representing actions to representing interactions: What is the role of motor simulation in interaction representation?

01 October 2018 → 30 September 2021
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Social sciences
    • Biological and physiological psychology
    • General psychology
    • Other psychology and cognitive sciences
interaction representation
Project description

Research indicates that we process others’ actions by simulating them in our own motor system.
This means that we represent observed actions as if we executed them ourselves. However, in
social life, we not only have to process actions but also interactions. Could this rely on motor
simulation as well? In my PhD, I was able to show that we can simultaneously represent multiple
observed actions in our motor system. However, representing multiple actions is not the same as
representing interactions. Therefore, in the current project, I aim to investigate how motor
simulation of multiple actions can lead to motor simulation of interactions. One way to represent
interactions is to integrate the involved actions into composite actions. For example, two persons
shaking hands could be represented as a single handshake in the motor system. Moreover, when
composite actions cannot be formed, representing multiple actions may produce motor conflict. In
the first part of the project, I will address these two hypotheses. In the second part, I will then
investigate whether interactions can be represented by processing interaction parameters such as
synchronicity in the motor system. Finally, I will examine how the brain keeps track of which agent
is doing what. That is, to represent interactions, it is also important that we can link the
represented actions to their agent. Together, the current proposal is a crucial step in developing a
simulation theory of interaction representation.