Inferring subjective states through the observation of actions

D. Patel, S. M. Fleming, J. M. Kilner


Estimating another person's subjective confidence is crucial for social interaction, but how this inference is achieved is unknown. Previous research has demonstrated that the speed at which people make decisions is correlated with their confidence in their decision. Here, we show that (i) subjects are able to infer the subjective confidence of another person simply through the observation of their actions and (ii) this inference is dependent upon the performance of each subject when executing the action. Crucially, the latter result supports a model in which motor simulation of an observed action mediates the successful understanding of other minds. We conclude that kinematic understanding allows access to the higher-order cognitive processes of others, and that this access plays a central role in social interactions.

  • Received August 8, 2012.
  • Accepted September 12, 2012.
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