Action adaptation during natural unfolding social scenes influences action recognition and inferences made about actor beliefs

Bruce David Keefe, Joanna Wincenciak, Tjeerd Jellema, James Ward, Nicholas Edward Barraclough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When observing another individual's actions, we can both recognize their actions and infer their beliefs concerning the physical and social environment. The extent to which visual adaptation influences action recognition and conceptually later stages of processing involved in deriving the belief state of the actor remains unknown. To explore this we used virtual reality (life-size photorealistic actors presented in stereoscopic three dimensions) to see how visual adaptation influences the perception of individuals in naturally unfolding social scenes at increasingly higher levels of action understanding. We presented scenes in which one actor picked up boxes (of varying number and weight), after which a second actor picked up a single box. Adaptation to the first actor's behavior systematically changed perception of the second actor. Aftereffects increased with the duration of the first actor's behavior, declined exponentially over time, and were independent of view direction. Inferences about the second actor's expectation of box weight were also distorted by adaptation to the first actor. Distortions in action recognition and actor expectations did not, however, extend across different actions, indicating that adaptation is not acting at an action-independent abstract level but rather at an action-dependent level. We conclude that although adaptation influences more complex inferences about belief states of individuals, this is likely to be a result of adaptation at an earlier action recognition stage rather than adaptation operating at a higher, more abstract level in mentalizing or simulation systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016


  • adaptation
  • vision
  • action
  • virtual reality
  • belief
  • expectation

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