Image_2_Emergent Synergistic Grasp-Like Behavior in a Visuomotor Joint Action Task: Evidence for Internal Forward Models as Building Blocks of Human Interactions.TIF

Central to the mechanistic understanding of the human mind is to clarify how cognitive functions arise from simpler sensory and motor functions. A longstanding assumption is that forward models used by sensorimotor control to anticipate actions also serve to incorporate other people’s actions and intentions, and give rise to sensorimotor interactions between people, and even abstract forms of interactions. That is, forward models could aid core aspects of human social cognition. To test whether forward models can be used to coordinate interactions, here we measured the movements of pairs of participants in a novel joint action task. For the task they collaborated to lift an object, each of them using fingers of one hand to push against the object from opposite sides, just like a single person would use two hands to grasp the object bimanually. Perturbations of the object were applied randomly as they are known to impact grasp-specific movement components in common grasping tasks. We found that co-actors quickly learned to make grasp-like movements with grasp components that showed coordination on average based on action observation of peak deviation and velocity of their partner’s trajectories. Our data suggest that co-actors adopted pre-existing bimanual grasp programs for their own body to use forward models of their partner’s effectors. This is consistent with the long-held assumption that human higher-order cognitive functions may take advantage of sensorimotor forward models to plan social behavior.

New and Noteworthy: Taking an approach of sensorimotor neuroscience, our work provides evidence for a long-held belief that the coordination of physical as well as abstract interactions between people originates from certain sensorimotor control processes that form mental representations of people’s bodies and actions, called forward models. With a new joint action paradigm and several new analysis approaches we show that, indeed, people coordinate each other’s interactions based on forward models and mutual action observation.