Psychological Research

, Volume 83, Issue 5, pp 863–877 | Cite as

How preschoolers and adults represent their joint action partner’s behavior

  • Lucia Maria SacheliEmail author
  • M. Meyer
  • E. Hartstra
  • H. Bekkering
  • S. Hunnius
Original Article


We investigated the cognitive mechanisms underlying turn-taking joint action in 42-month-old children (Experiment 1) and adults (Experiment 2) using a behavioral task of dressing a virtual bear together. We aimed to investigate how participants represent a partners’ behavior, i.e., in terms of specific action kinematics or of action effects. The bear was dressed by pressing a smaller and a bigger button. In the Action-response task, instructions asked participants to respond to the partner by pressing the same or opposite button; in the Action-effect task they had to respond to the partner’s action effect by dressing the bear with the lacking part of the clothing, which in some cases implied pressing the same button and in other cases implied pressing the opposite button. In 50% of the trials, the partner’s association between each button and the ensuing effect (dressing the bear with t-shirt or pants) was reversed, while it never changed for participants. Both children and adults showed no effect of physical congruency of actions, but showed impaired performance in the Action-effect task if their partner achieved her effect through a different action-effect association than their own. These results suggest that, when encoding their partner’s actions, agents are influenced by action-effect associations that they learnt through their own experience. While interference led to overt errors in children, it caused longer reaction times in adults, suggesting that a flexible cognitive control (that is still in development in young children) is required to take on the partner’s perspective.



Action-response task


Action-effect task



We would like to thank Birgit Knudsen for her help during data collection. LMS was funded by NENS Exchange Grant supported by the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS), and by ESCON2 Short Visit Grant, European Social Cognition Network, European Science Foundation (Ref. no. 5945). HB was supported by NWO-TOP Grant 407-11-040.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.

Data availability

Data have been made available as Supplementary Materials.

Supplementary material

426_2017_929_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (15 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 15 kb)


  1. Bekkering, H., De Bruijn, E. R., Cuijpers, R. H., Newman-Norlund, R., Van Schie, H. T., & Meulenbroek, R. (2009). Joint action: Neurocognitive mechanisms supporting human interaction. Topics in Cognitive Science, 1(2), 340–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Blakemore, S. J., & Frith, C. (2005). The role of motor contagion in the prediction of action. Neuropsychologia, 43(2), 260–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brass, M., Bekkering, H., & Prinz, W. (2001). Movement observation affects movement execution in a simple response task. Acta Psychologica (Amst), 106(1–2), 3–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brass, M., Bekkering, H., Wohlschläger, A., & Prinz, W. (2000). Compatibility between observed and executed finger movements: Comparing symbolic, spatial, and imitative cues. Brain and Cognition, 44(2), 124–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brownell, C. A. (2011). Early developments in joint action. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 2, 193–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brownell, C. A., Ramani, G. B., & Zerwas, S. (2006). Becoming a social partner with peers: Cooperation and social understanding in one-and two-year-olds. Child Development, 77(4), 803–821.Google Scholar
  7. Bruyer, R., & Brysbaert, M. (2011). Combining speed and accuracy in cognitive psychology: Is the inverse efficiency score (IES) a better dependent variable than the mean reaction time (RT) and the percentage of errors (PE)? Psychologica Belgica, 51(1), 5–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Butterfill, S. (2012). Joint action and development. The Philosophical Quarterly, 62(246), 1467–9213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Candidi, M., Curioni, A., Donnarumma, F., Sacheli, L. M., & Pezzulo, G. (2015a). Interactional leader–follower sensorimotor communication strategies during repetitive joint actions. Journal of the Royal Society, Interface, 12(110), 20150644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Candidi, M., Sacheli, L. M., Aglioti, S. M., et al. (2015b). From muscles synergies and individual goals to interpersonal synergies and shared goals: mirror neurons and interpersonal action hierarchies: Comment on “Grasping synergies: A motor-control approach to the mirror neuron mechanism” by D’Ausilio et al. Physics Life Reviews, 12, 126–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carpendale, J. I., & Lewis, C. (2004). Constructing an understanding of mind: The development of children’s social understanding within social interaction. Behavioral Brain Sciences, 27(01), 79–96.Google Scholar
  12. Chersi, F. (2011). Neural mechanisms and models underlying joint action. Experimental Brain Research, 211(3–4), 643–653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cross, K. A., & Iacoboni, M. (2014a). Neural systems for preparatory control of imitation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 369(1644), 20130176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cross, K. A., & Iacoboni, M. (2014b). To imitate or not: Avoiding imitation involves preparatory inhibition of motor resonance. Neuroimage, 91, 228–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cross, K. A., Torrisi, S., Reynolds Losin, E. A., & Iacoboni, M. (2013). Controlling automatic imitative tendencies: Interactions between mirror neuron and cognitive control systems. Neuroimage, 83, 493–504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. D’Ausilio, A., Bartoli, E., & Maffongelli, L. (2015). Grasping synergies: a motor-control approach to the mirror neuron mechanism. Physics Life Reviews, 12, 91–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Diamond, A., & Kirkham, N. (2005). Not quite as grown-up as we like to think parallels between cognition in childhood and adulthood. Psychological Science, 16(4), 291–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Elsner, B. (2007). Infants’ imitation of goal-directed actions: the role of movements and action effects. Acta Psychologica, 124(1), 44–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Elsner, B., & Aschersleben, G. (2003). Do I get what you get? Learning about the effects of self-performed and observed actions in infancy. Consciousness and Cognition, 12(4), 732–751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Epley, N., Morewedge, C. K., & Keysar, B. (2004). Perspective taking in children and adults: Equivalent egocentrism but differential correction. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40(6), 760–768.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fishbein, H. D., Lewis, S., & Keiffer, K. (1972). Children’s understanding of spatial relations: Coordination of perspectives. Developmental Psychology, 7(1), 21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Flavell, J. H., Speer, J. R., Green, F. L., August, D. L., & Whitehurst, G. J. (1981). The development of comprehension monitoring and knowledge about communication. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 46(5), 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Garon, N., Bryson, S. E., & Smith, I. M. (2008). Executive function in preschoolers: a review using an integrative framework. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 31–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gerson, S. A., Bekkering, H., & Hunnius, S. (2015). Short-term motor training, but not observational training, alters neurocognitive mechanisms of action processing in infancy. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 27(6), 1207–1214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hadley, L. V., Novembre, G., Keller, P. E., & Pickering, M. J. (2015) Causal role of motor simulation in turn-taking behavior. Jounal of Neurosciences, 35(50), 16516–16520.Google Scholar
  26. Higgins, J. J., Blair, R. C., & Tashtoush, S. (1990). The aligned rank transform procedure. In Proceedings of the Conference on Applied Statistics in Agriculture. Kansas State, pp. 185–195.Google Scholar
  27. Hommel, B. (2004). Event files: Feature binding in and across perception and action. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8(11), 494–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hommel, B. (2009). Action control according to TEC (theory of event coding). Psychological Research PRPF, 73(4), 512–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hunnius, S., & Bekkering, H. (2010). The early development of object knowledge: A study of infants’ visual anticipations during action observation. Developmental Psychology, 46(2), 446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ikeda, Y., Okuzumi, H., & Kokubun, M. (2014). Age-related trends of inhibitory control in Stroop-like big-small task in 3 to 12-year-old children and young adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jeannerod, M. (2001). Neural simulation of action: A unifying mechanism for motor cognition. NeuroImage, 14, 103–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Keller, P. E., Knoblich, G., & Repp, B. H. (2007). Pianists duet better when they play with themselves: On the possible role of action simulation in synchronization. Consciousness and Cognition, 16, 102–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Keysers, C., & Gazzola, V. (2014). Hebbian learning and predictive mirror neurons for actions, sensations and emotions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 369(1644), 20130175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kilner, J. M., Paulignan, Y., & Blakemore, S. J. (2003). An interference effect of observed biological movement on action. Current Biology, 13, 522–525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Knoblich, G., & Jordan, J. S. (2003). Action coordination in groups and individuals: Learning anticipatory control. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 29(5), 1006–1016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kohler, E., Keysers, C., Umiltà, M. A., Fogassi, L., Gallese, V., & Rizzolatti, G. (2002). Hearing sounds, understanding actions: action representation in mirror neurons. Science, 297(5582), 846–848.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Liben, L. S. (1978). Performance on Piagetian spatial tasks as a function of sex, field dependence, and training. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly of Behaviour and Development, 24(2), 97–110.Google Scholar
  38. Meyer, M., Bekkering, H., Haartsen, R., Stapel, J. C., & Hunnius, S. (2015). The role of action prediction and inhibitory control in young children’s joint action coordination. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 139, 203–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Meyer, M., Bekkering, H., Paulus, M., & Hunnius, S. (2010). Joint action coordination in 2½- and 3-year-old children. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 4, 220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Meyer, M., van der Wel, R. P., & Hunnius, S. (2013). Higher-order action planning for individual and joint object manipulations. Experimental Brain Research, 225(4), 579–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Meyer, M., van der Wel, R. P., & Hunnius, S. (2016). Planning my actions to accommodate yours: joint action development during early childhood. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371(1693), 20150371. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mueller, E., & Brenner, J. (1977). The origins of social skills and interaction among playgroup toddlers. Child Development, 48(3), 854–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Murray, L., & Trevarthen, C. (1986). The infant’s role in mother–infant communications. Journal of child language, 13(01), 15–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Newman-Norlund, R. D., van Schie, H. T., van Zuijlen, A. M., & Bekkering, H. (2007). The mirror neuron system is more active during complementary compared with imitative action. Nature Neuroscience, 10(7), 817–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Novembre, G., Ticini, L. F., Schütz-Bosbach, S., & Keller, P. E. (2014). Motor simulation and the coordination of self and other in real-time joint action. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9(8), 1062–1068.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Ocampo, B., & Kritikos, A. (2010). Placing actions in context: Motor facilitation following observation of identical and non-identical manual acts. Experimental Brain Research, 201(4), 743–751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ondobaka, S., de Lange, F. P., Newman-Norlund, R. D., Wiemers, M., & Bekkering, H. (2012). Interplay between action and movement intentions during social interaction. Psychological Science, 23(1), 30–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Paulus, M. (2016). The development of action planning in a joint action context. Developmental Psychology, 52(7), 1052–1063.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Perner, J., & Davies, G. (1991). Understanding the mind as an active information processor: Do young children have a “copy theory of mind”? Cognition, 39(1), 51–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Pfister, R., Dolk, T., Prinz, W., & Kunde, W. (2014). Joint response-effect compatibility. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 21(3), 817.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Piaget, J., & Inhelder, B. (1956). The child conception of space. (trans: Langdon F.J., & Lunzer J. L.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  52. Prinz, W. (1997). Perception and action planning. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 9(2), 129–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Rizzolatti, G., & Fogassi, L. (2014). The mirror mechanism: Recent findings and perspectives. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 369(1644), 20130420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sacheli, L. M., Aglioti, S. M., & Candidi, M. (2015b). Social cues to joint actions: The role of shared goals. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1034. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01034.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sacheli, L. M., Candidi, M., Era, V., & Aglioti, S. M. (2015a). Causative role of left aIPS in coding shared goals during human-avatar complementary joint actions. Nature Communications, 6, 7544. doi: 10.1038/ncomms8544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sacheli, L. M., Tidoni, E., Pavone, E. F., Aglioti, S. M., & Candidi, M. (2013). Kinematics fingerprints of leader and follower role-taking during cooperative joint actions. Experimental Brain Research, 226(4), 473–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Salter, K. C., & Fawcett, R. F. (1993). The ART test of interaction: A robust and powerful rank test of interaction in factorial models. Communications in Statistics-Simulation and Computation, 22(1), 137–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sebanz, N., Bekkering, H., & Knoblich, G. (2006). Joint action: bodies and minds moving together. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10(2), 70–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Sebanz, N., & Knoblich, G. (2009). Prediction in joint action: What, when, and where. Topics in Cognitive Science, 1(2), 353–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Sebanz, N., Knoblich, G., & Prinz, W. (2003). Representing others’ actions: Just like one’s own? Cognition, 88(3), B11–B21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sebanz, N., Knoblich, G., & Prinz, W. (2005). How two share a task: Corepresenting stimulus-response mappings. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 31(6), 1234–1246.Google Scholar
  62. Spengler, S., von Cramon, D. Y., & Brass, M. (2010). Resisting motor mimicry: Control of imitation involves processes central to social cognition in patients with frontal and temporo-parietal lesions. Social Neuroscience, 5(4), 401–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Tunik, E., Rice, N. J., Hamilton, A., & Grafton, S. T. (2007). Beyond grasping: representation of action in human anterior intraparietal sulcus. Neuroimage, 36, T77–T86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Ubaldi, S., Barchiesi, G., & Cattaneo, L. (2015). Bottom-up and top-down visuomotor responses to action observation. Cerebral Cortex, 25(4), 1032–1041.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. van Schie, H. T., van Waterschoot, B. M., & Bekkering, H. (2008). Understanding action beyond imitation: Reversed compatibility effects of action observation in imitation and joint action. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 34(6), 1493–1500.Google Scholar
  66. Vesper, C., van der Wel, R. P., Knoblich, G., & Sebanz, N. (2013). Are you ready to jump? Predictive mechanisms in interpersonal coordination. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 39(1), 48–61.Google Scholar
  67. Wimmer, H., & Perner, J. (1983). Beliefs about beliefs: Representation and constraining function of wrong beliefs in young children’s understanding of deception. Cognition, 13(1), 103–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wobbrock, J. O., Findlater, L., Gergle, D., & Higgins, J. J. (2011). The aligned rank transform for nonparametric factorial analyses using only ANOVA procedures. In Proc. CHI ’11 (pp. 143–146). New York: ACM Press.Google Scholar
  69. Yamaguchi, M., Wall, H. J., & Hommel, B. (2017). Action-effect sharing induces task-set sharing in joint task switching. Cognition, 165, 113–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and BehaviourRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of PsychologySapienza University of RomeRomeItaly
  3. 3.Department of Psychology and Milan Center for Neuroscience (NeuroMi)University of Milano-BicoccaMilanItaly
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations