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The role of transients in action observation

Cole, Geoff G.; Welsh, Timothy N.; Skarratt, Paul A.


Geoff G. Cole

Timothy N. Welsh


A large number of studies have now described the various ways in which the observation of another person’s dynamic movement can influence the speed with which the observer is able to prepare a motor action themselves. The typical results are most often explained with reference to theories that link perception and action. Such theories argue that the cognitive structures associated with each share common representations. Consequently, action preparation and action observation are often said to be functionally equivalent. However, the dominance of these theories in explaining action observation effects has masked the potential contribution from processes associated with the detection of low-level “transients” resulting from observing a body movement, such as motion and sound. In the present review, we describe work undertaken in one particular action observation phenomenon (“social inhibition of return”) and show that the transient account provides the best explanation of the effect. We argue that future work should consider attention capture and orienting as a potential contributing factor to action observation effects more broadly.


Cole, G. G., Welsh, T. N., & Skarratt, P. A. (in press). The role of transients in action observation. Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics,

Journal Article Type Review
Acceptance Date Apr 9, 2019
Online Publication Date May 6, 2019
Deposit Date Jun 28, 2019
Publicly Available Date May 7, 2020
Journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Print ISSN 1943-3921
Electronic ISSN 1943-393X
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Attentional capture; Inhibition of return; Motion (biological)
Public URL
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Additional Information Special issue: Time for action: reaching for a better understanding of the dynamics of cognition.
This is the accepted manuscript of an article published in Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 2019. The version of record is available at the DOI link in this record.


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