Anticipated Action and Attention

Contributors:
  1. Johanna Groß-Bölting

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Description: Past research has shown that merely anticipating a certain action in someone else leads observers to engage in the anticipated action—a phenomenon called anticipated action. In a standard experiment on anticipated action, participants watch video clips of a model engaging in triggering events such as nose wrinkling or hair falling. A typical finding is that when observing nose wrinkling, participants engage in more nose scratching actions than hair stroking actions and vice versa for observing hair falling. While past research suggested that this effect is due to inferring a desire in others to act, an alternative explanation is that observing a triggering event in someone else guides attention towards respective body parts facilitating any action towards this body part. In two experiments we set this explanation to a critical test. The results speak against attention as driving process and in favor of inferring a desire in others to act, because guiding attention to the location of the triggering event did not result in anticipated action effects. This result has important implications for research on anticipative processes and imitative behavior.

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