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The social is predictive : human sensitivity to attention control in action prediction Pesquita, Ana


Observing others is predicting others. Humans have a natural tendency to make predictions about other people’s future behavior. This predisposition sits at the basis of social cognition: others become accessible to us because we are able to simulate their internal states, and in this way make predictions about their future behavior (Blakemore & Decety, 2001). In this thesis, I examine prediction in the social realm through three main contributions. The first contribution is of a theoretical nature, the second is methodological, and the third contribution is empirical. On the theoretical plane, I present a new framework for cooperative social interactions – the predictive joint-action model, which extends previous models of social interaction (Wolpert, Doya, & Kawato, 2003) to include the higher level goals of joint action and planning (Vesper, Butterfill, Knoblich, & Sebanz, 2010). Action prediction is central to joint-action. A recent theory proposes that social awareness to someone else’s attentional states underlies our ability to predict their future actions (Graziano, 2013). In the methodological realm, I developed a procedure for investigating the role of sensitivity to other’s attention control states in action prediction. This method offers a way to test the hypothesis that humans are sensitive to whether someone’s spatial attention was endogenously controlled (as in the case of choosing to attend towards a particular event) or exogenously controlled (as in the case of attention being prompted by an external event), independent of their sensitivity to the spatial location of that person’s attentional focus. On the empirical front, I present new evidence supporting the hypothesis that social cognition involves the predictive modeling of other’s attentional states. In particular, a series of experiments showed that observers are sensitive to someone else’s attention control and that this sensitivity occurs through an implicit kinematic process linked to social aptitude. In conclusion, I bring these contributions together. I do this by offering an interpretation of the empirical findings through the lens of the theoretical framework, by discussing several limitations of the present work, and by pointing to several questions that emerge from the new findings, thereby outlining avenues for future research on social cognition.

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