How can the study of action kinematics inform our understanding of human social interaction?

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The kinematics of human actions are influenced by the social context in which they are performed. Motion-capture technology has allowed researchers to build up a detailed and complex picture of how action kinematics vary across different social contexts. Here we review three task domains—point-to-point imitation tasks, motor interference tasks and reach-to-grasp tasks—to critically evaluate how these tasks can inform our understanding of social interactions. First, we consider how actions within these task domains are performed in a non-social context, before highlighting how a plethora of social cues can perturb the baseline kinematics. We show that there is considerable overlap in the findings from these different tasks domains but also highlight the inconsistencies in the literature and the possible reasons for this. Specifically, we draw attention to the pitfalls of dealing with rich, kinematic data. As a way to avoid these pitfalls, we call for greater standardisation and clarity in the reporting of kinematic measures and suggest the field would benefit from a move towards more naturalistic tasks.

Graphical abstract

A stylised velocity profile of wrist trajectory during a reach-to-grasp action under different social and non-social conditions

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