Reciprocal information flow and role distribution support joint action coordination

June 1, 2019

Arianna Curioni, Cordula Vesper, Günther Knoblich, Natalie Sebanz

Many joint actions require task partners to temporally coordinate actions that follow different spatial patterns. This creates the need to find trade-offs between temporal coordination and spatial alignment. To study coordination under incongruent spatial and temporal demands, we devised a novel coordination task that required task partners to synchronize their actions while tracing different shapes that implied conflicting velocity profiles. In three experiments, we investigated whether coordination under incongruent demands is best achieved through mutually coupled predictions or through a clear role distribution with only one task partner adjusting to the other. Participants solved the task of trading off spatial and temporal coordination demands equally well when mutually perceiving each other’s actions without any role distribution, and when acting in a leader-follower configuration where the leader was unable to see the follower’s actions. Coordination was significantly worse when task partners who had been assigned roles could see each other’s actions. These findings make three contributions to our understanding of coordination mechanisms in joint action. First, they show that mutual prediction facilitates coordination under incongruent demands, demonstrating the importance of coupled predictive models in a wide range of coordination contexts. Second, they show that mutual alignment of velocity profiles in the absence of a leader-follower dynamic is more wide-spread than previously thought. Finally, they show that role distribution can result in equally effective coordination as mutual prediction without role assignment, provided that the role distribution is not arbitrarily imposed but determined by (lack of) perceptual access to a partner’s actions.