Expert Players Accurately Detect an Opponent’s Movement Intentions Through Sound Alone

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Sounds offer a rich source of information about events taking place in our physical and social environment. However, outside the domains of speech and music, little is known about whether humans can recognize and act upon the intentions of another agent’s actions detected through auditory information alone. In this study we assessed whether intention can be inferred from the sound an action makes, and in turn, whether this information can be used to prospectively guide movement. In 2 experiments experienced and novice basketball players had to virtually intercept an attacker by listening to audio recordings of that player’s movements. In the first experiment participants had to move a slider, while in the second one their body, to block the perceived passage of the attacker as they would in a real basketball game. Combinations of deceptive and nondeceptive movements were used to see if novice and/or experienced listeners could perceive the attacker’s intentions through sound alone. We showed that basketball players were able to more accurately predict final running direction compared to nonplayers, particularly in the second experiment when the interceptive action was more basketball specific. We suggest that athletes present better action anticipation by being able to pick up and use the relevant kinematic features of deceptive movement from event-related sounds alone. This result suggests that action intention can be perceived through the sound a movement makes and that the ability to determine another person’s action intention from the information conveyed through sound is honed through practice.

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