Cordula Vesper

How does a partner’s motor variability affect joint action?

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  • Simily Sabu, Central European University
  • ,
  • Arianna Curioni, Central European University
  • ,
  • Cordula Vesper
  • Natalie Sebanz, Central European University
  • ,
  • Günther Knoblich, Central European University

Motor learning studies demonstrate that an individual’s natural motor variability predicts the rate at which she learns a motor task. Individuals exhibiting higher variability learn motor tasks faster, presumably because variability fosters exploration of a wider space of motor parameters. However, it is unclear how individuals regulate variability while learning a motor task together with a partner who perturbs their movements. In the current study, we investigated whether and how variability affects performance and learning in such joint actions. Participants learned to jointly perform a sequence of movements with a confederate who was either highly variable or less variable in her movements. A haptic coupling between the actors led to translation of partner’s movement variability into a force perturbation. We tested how the variability and predictability of force perturbations coming from a partner foster or hamper individual and joint performance. In experiment 1, the confederate produced more or less variable range of force perturbations that occurred in an unpredictable order. In experiment 2, the confederate produced more or less variable force perturbations in a predictable order. In experiment 3, the confederate produced more or less variable force perturbations in which the magnitude of force delivered was predictable whereas the direction of the force was unpredictable. We analysed individual performance, measured as movement accuracy and joint performance, measured as interpersonal asynchrony. Results indicated that in all three experiments, participants successfully regulated the variability of their own movements. However, individual performance was worse when partner produced highly variable force perturbations in an unpredictable order. Interestingly, predictability of force perturbations offset the detrimental effects of variability on individual performance. Furthermore, participants in the high variability condition achieved higher flexibility and resilience for a wide range of force perturbations, when the partner produced predictable movements. Participants improved their joint performance with a highly variable partner only when the partner produced partially predictable movements. Our results indicate that individuals involved in a joint action selectively rely on either their own or their partner’s variability (or both) for benefitting individual and joint action performance, depending on the predictability of the partner’ movements.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0241417
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

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