The Things You Do: Internal Models of Others’ Expected Behaviour Guide Action Observation

<div><p>Predictions allow humans to manage uncertainties within social interactions. Here, we investigate how explicit and implicit person models–how different people behave in different situations–shape these predictions. In a novel action identification task, participants judged whether actors interacted with or withdrew from objects. In two experiments, we manipulated, unbeknownst to participants, the two actors action likelihoods across situations, such that one actor typically interacted with one object and withdrew from the other, while the other actor showed the opposite behaviour. In Experiment 2, participants additionally received explicit information about the two individuals that either matched or mismatched their actual behaviours. The data revealed direct but dissociable effects of both kinds of person information on action identification. Implicit action likelihoods affected response times, speeding up the identification of typical relative to atypical actions, irrespective of the explicit knowledge about the individual’s behaviour. Explicit person knowledge, in contrast, affected error rates, causing participants to respond according to expectations instead of observed behaviour, even when they were aware that the explicit information might not be valid. Together, the data show that internal models of others’ behaviour are routinely re-activated during action observation. They provide first evidence of a person-specific social anticipation system, which predicts forthcoming actions from both explicit information and an individuals’ prior behaviour in a situation. These data link action observation to recent models of predictive coding in the non-social domain where similar dissociations between implicit effects on stimulus identification and explicit behavioural wagers have been reported.</p></div>