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Motor models in action prediction : a test of practice experience generalization when throwing darts with a weight Chan, Brennan


Previous studies have provided evidence consistent with the proposal that people “simulate” observed actions, based on their own motor experiences, to help predict the outcome of others’ actions. This simulation is believed to be based on low-level activation of the observer’s motor system at the time of the decision. In this experiment, we tested how closely people’s motor experiences influence their ability to predict action outcomes and whether these experiences generalize to predicting outcomes of novel stimuli. To do this, we manipulated the experiences (and therefore, the type of internal model formed during physical practice), by asking people to practice throwing darts with or without a wrist weight. Participants were asked to predict outcomes of people throwing under opposite or the same conditions as those experienced during practice. Although we showed evidence that prediction ability is specific to one’s practice experience, this was only seen in people who physically practiced without a weight and not for people who physically practiced with a wrist weight. The contribution of the motor system to these predictive decisions was also assessed by secondary-motor tasks designed to probe motor system involvement during prediction. Although we showed that predicting dart outcomes while wearing a wrist weight aided prediction accuracy, this was only observed in people who physically practiced without a weight. Contrary to previous studies, we were unable to show interference from a secondary, incongruent movement task (light press on a force gauge) after physical practice. Both physical and perceptual practice resulted in improvement in prediction accuracy post-practice, although this was strongest for the no-weight physical practice group. Overall, these data provide evidence that physical practice transfers to improvement in perceptually-driven predictive decisions. However, although the secondary tasks gave some evidence that prediction was dependent on the motor system (when holding a weight), and that the type of motor experience (weight or no-weight) impacts predictive decisions, evidence for motor simulation was not shown. Limits of the current methods are discussed.

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