Conceptual and physical object qualities contribute differently to motor affordances

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Priming studies have demonstrated that an object’s intrinsic and extrinsic qualities (size, orientation) influence subsequent motor behavior thus suggesting that these object qualities ‘afford’ actions that are congruent with the prime. We present four experiments that aim to evaluate the relative effect of conceptual and physical object qualities on action priming. In Experiment 1 equally graspable known and unknown tools are presented as primes. In Experiment 2 the primes depict high versus low graspable unfamiliar tools, and in Experiments 3 and 4 we present simple graspable shapes versus high graspable unfamiliar or familiar tools respectively. In all experiments the (unrelated) task consists of a timed motor response to the direction of a centrally placed arrow that is superimposed on the prime. Whereas tool familiarity reveals no significant difference on reaction time (Exp 1), responses to high graspable unfamiliar tools (Exp 2) and simple graspable shapes (Exps 3 and 4) are significantly faster. We conclude that motor affordances are most readily determined by object qualities that depend on the object’s physical appearance provided by visual information. Conceptual information about the stimuli, such as semantic category or stored knowledge about its function and associated movements, does not appear to produce detectable effects of action priming in this paradigm.

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Journal Article

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