Expectations of efficient actions bias social perception: a pre-registered online replication

Katrina L McDonough* (Corresponding Author), Patric Bach

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Humans take a teleological stance when observing others' actions, interpreting them as intentional and goal directed. In predictive processing accounts of social perception, this teleological stance would be mediated by a perceptual prediction of an ideal energy-efficient reference trajectory with which a rational actor would achieve their goals within the current environmental constraints. Hudson and colleagues (2018 Proc. R. Soc. B 285, 20180638. (doi:10.1098/rspb.2018.0638)) tested this hypothesis in a series of experiments in which participants reported the perceived disappearance points of hands reaching for objects. They found that these judgements were biased towards the expected efficient reference trajectories. Observed straight reaches were reported higher when an obstacle needed to be overcome than if the path was clear. By contrast, unnecessarily high reaches over empty space were perceptually flattened. Moreover, these perceptual biases increased the more the environmental constraints and expected action trajectories were explicitly processed. These findings provide an important advance to our understanding of the mechanisms underlying social perception. The current replication tests the robustness of these findings and whether they uphold in an online setting.

Original languageEnglish
Article number220889
Number of pages11
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number2
Early online date22 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Open Access via the Royal Society Agreement
This work was supported by the Leverhulme Trust (grant no. RPG-2019-248) awarded to P.B.


  • action prediction
  • social perception
  • predictive processing
  • teleological reasoning
  • action efficiency
  • representational momentum


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