Perceiving affordances for different motor skills

Whitney G. Cole, Gladys L Y Chan, Beatrix Vereijken, Karen E. Adolph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examined several factors that affect people's ability to perceive possibilities for action. In Experiment 1, 24 participants crossed expanses of various sizes in three conditions: leaping, a familiar, launching action system; arm-swinging on monkey bars, an unpracticed skill that uses the arms rather than the legs; and crawling on hands and knees, a disused skill that involves all four limbs. Before and after performing each action, participants gave verbal judgments about the largest gap they could cross. Participants scaled initial judgments to their actual abilities in all three conditions. But they considerably underestimated their abilities for leaping, a launching action, and for arm-swinging when it was performed as a launching action; judgments about crawling, a non-launching action, and arm-swinging when it was performed as a non-launching action were more accurate. Thus, launching actions appear to produce a deficit in perceiving affordances that is not ameliorated by familiarity with the action. However, after performing the actions, participants partially corrected for the deficiency and more accurately judged their abilities for launching actions - suggesting that even brief action experience facilitates the perception of affordances. In Experiment 2, we confirmed that the deficit was due to the launching nature of the leaping and arm-swinging actions in Experiment 1. We asked an additional 12 participants to cross expanses using two non-launching actions using the legs (stepping across an expanse) and the arms (reaching across an expanse). Participants were highly accurate when judging affordances for these actions, supporting launching as the cause of the underestimation reported in Experiment 1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-319
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Affordances
  • Human locomotion
  • Motor action
  • Perception-action links
  • Visual perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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