Effects of short-term experience on anticipatory eye movements during action observation


Recent studies have shown that anticipatory eye movements occur during both action observation and action execution. These findings strongly support the direct matching hypothesis, which states that in observing others’ actions, people take advantage of the same action knowledge that enables them to perform the same actions. Furthermore, a connection between action experience and the ability to anticipate action goals has been proposed. Concerning the role of experience, most studies concentrated on motor experts such as athletes and musicians, whereas only few studies investigated whether motor programs can be activated by short-term experience. Applying a pre–post design, we examined whether short-term experience affects anticipatory eye movements during observation. Participants (N = 150 university students) observed scenes showing an actor performing a block stacking task. Subsequently, participants performed either a block stacking task, puzzles, or a pursuit rotor task. Afterward, participants were again provided with the aforementioned block stacking task scenes. Results revealed that the block stacking task group directed their gaze significantly earlier toward the action goals of the block stacking task during posttest trials, compared with Puzzle and pursuit rotor task groups, which did not differ from each other. In accordance with the direct matching hypothesis, our study provides evidence that short-term experience with the block stacking task activates task-specific action knowledge.

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  1. 1.

    The attention grabbers and additional sounds were included in this design, as the same stimuli have been applied in a further study with preschoolers.

  2. 2.

    Manual fine motor skills were measured by the Manual Skills Scale of the Movement Assessment Battery for Children (M-ABC-2, Petermann 2011). These data are not considered further and are only mentioned for the sake of completeness.


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This research was conducted within the International Research Training Group “Adaptive Minds” supported by German Research Foundation (DFG) under Grant 1457. We are grateful to Alexander Kirmße for support with stimuli recording, Laura Weber for help with data collection, and Florian Domnick for support with programming. We would further like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive and helpful comments on an earlier version of the article.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Corina Möller.

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Möller, C., Zimmer, H.D. & Aschersleben, G. Effects of short-term experience on anticipatory eye movements during action observation. Exp Brain Res 233, 69–77 (2015).

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  • Action observation
  • Direct matching hypothesis
  • Anticipatory eye movements
  • Action plans
  • Prediction