Joint planning, coordination, and commitment

When we perform joint actions such as clinking glasses, playing a piano duet, or rowing a canoe together we often need to include others into our planning, to adjust our actions temporally and spatially to one another, and to follow through until reaching a joint goal.

Our research on planning investigates whether we include others’ actions in our planning even when we don’t need to, in which detail others’ actions are represented, and whether joint plans can override individual plans. Our studies on coordination ask how we coordinate with others by using the environment, by modifying our own performance to become more predictable, and by simulating others’ actions using our motor system. A new research line on commitment investigates when and why people expect each other to contribute and to go through with joint actions.

Communication and teaching in joint action

The coordination required for joint actions is often facilitated by communication. Focusing on non-verbal communication our research addresses how people modulate instrumental actions to communicate, how communication is shaped by the use of different sensory systems, and how communication systems can be bootstrapped from simple coordination problems.

Engaging in joint action also provides opportunities for teaching and learning and thus forms a potential basis for cultural transmission. We investigate 1) whether the need for interpersonal coordination in joint action creates learning opportunities that go beyond demonstration; 2) how teacher scaffold learners through joint action; and 3) how joint action is transmitted from group to group.

Joint attention, perspective taking, and mindreading

When two people look at the same situation they do not necessarily see the same thing because of their differing perspectives. This raises three questions that we address in our research: 1) (how) do people keep track of differences in their own and others’ perceptions; 2) how does people’s perception change depending on what others see and what attentional relations they are in; and 3) how do people integrate information from others who have different perspectives?

Music as a model of joint action

Joint music-making is ubiquitous across cultures and is an important part of many people’s daily lives. Joint music-making requires a remarkably high level of temporal coordination between partners that can be achieved without formal training. Our lab’s research on joint music-making investigates how partners integrate a range of sensorimotor and cognitive abilities in order to coordinate joint musical actions.

We investigate several aspects of joint music-making, including what coordination challenges partners face, and how they overcome these challenges. How do novices learn to coordinate actions with experts? What do unintended temporal errors that occur in response to musical challenges tell us about sensorimotor synchronization? And how do musical partners navigate situations of high coordination uncertainty? In addition to these and other behavioural questions, we also investigate the neural correlates of coordination between musical partners using simultaneous dual-brain electroencephalography (EEG).

Self and other in perception and action

An important question in action research is whether we use the same representations or the same kind of representations when we perform actions, imagine others acting, and perceive others acting. We address this question by asking how planning actions affects perception, whether motor laws hold in imagery and perception, and whether people are best at recognizing and predicting their own actions. Given that many findings show a large overlap between action perception, imagery, and production the question arises how and under which conditions people can tell apart the perceivable consequences of their own and others’ actions. We address this question in our experiments on the sense of control and the sense of agency.

Insight and innovation

When trying to solve difficult problems people often reach impasses where no solution is in sight. Then, all of a sudden, the solution appears to them, often making the effort invested in previous systematic attempts seem wasted. Our research investigates why people reach impasses, how impasses are overcome, and why insights are experienced as sudden and not under the problem solver’s control.

Other topics

Many ‘Sombies’ have interests in research topics other than the above. These range from turtles and affordances to empathy and finger tapping.