Modulating Action Duration to Establish Nonconventional Communication

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In many joint actions, knowledge about the precise task to be performed is distributed asymmetrically such that one person has information that another person lacks. In such situations, interpersonal coordination can be achieved if the knowledgeable person modulates basic parameters of her goal-directed actions in a way that provides relevant information to the co-actor with incomplete task knowledge. Whereas such sensorimotor communication has frequently been shown for spatial parameters like movement amplitude, little is known about how co-actors use temporal parameters of their actions to establish communication. The current study investigated whether systematic modulations of action duration provide a sufficient basis for communication. The results of 3 experiments demonstrate that knowledgeable actors spontaneously and systematically adjusted the duration of their actions to communicate task-relevant information if the naïve co-actor could not access this information in other ways. The clearer the communicative signal was the higher was the benefit for the co-actor’s performance. Moreover, we provide evidence that knowledgeable actors have a preference to separate instrumental from communicative aspects of their action. Together, our findings suggest that generating and perceiving systematic deviations from the predicted duration of a goal-directed action can establish nonconventionalized forms of communication during joint action.

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