Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The mind uses syntax to interpret actions

05.11.2010
Most people are familiar with the concept that sentences have syntax. A verb, a subject, and an object come together in predictable patterns. But actions have syntax, too; when we watch someone else do something, we assemble their actions to mean something, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"There are oceans and oceans of work on how we understand languages and how we interpret the things other people say," says Matthew Botvinick of Princeton University, who cowrote the paper with his colleagues Kachina Allen, Steven Ibara, Amy Seymour, and Natalia Cordova. They thought the same principle might be applied to understanding actions. For example, if you see someone buy a ticket, give it to the attendant, and ride on the carousel, you understand that exchanging money for a piece of paper gave him the right to get on the round thing and go around in circles.

Botvinick and his colleagues focused on action sequences that followed two contrasting kinds of syntax—a linear syntax, in which action A (buying a ticket) leads to action B (giving the ticket to the attendant), which leads to outcome C (riding the carousel), and another syntax in which actions A and B both independently lead to outcome C. They were testing whether the difference in structure affected the way that people read about the actions.

The experiments were based on studies suggesting that people read a sentence faster if it comes after a sentence with the same grammatical form. But in this case, the scientists varied relationships between actions rather than the order of parts of speech. In one experiment, volunteers read sentences that described three actions. They took one of two forms: either one action leads to the next action, which leads to the outcome, such as "John purchased a carousel ticket, gave it to the attendant, and went for a ride," or sentences like "John sliced up some tomatoes, rinsed off some lettuce, and tossed together a salad"—in which both of the first two actions lead to the result, without the second depending on the first.

Indeed, people were able to read a sentence more quickly if it followed a set of actions arranged the same way than if it followed a sentence of the other type. This indicates that readers' minds had some kind of abstract representation of the ways goals and actions relate, says Botvinick. "It's the underlying knowledge structure that kind of glues actions together. Otherwise, you could watch somebody do something and say it's just a random sequence of actions."

In the carousel example, a Martian might not understand why John exchanges paper for another piece of paper, why he gives the paper to the other man, why he goes around and around in circles, and what relationship there is between these actions. As humans, we've worked all of those things out, and Botvinick thinks he's a step closer to understanding the process.

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "Abstract Structural Representations of Goal-Directed Behavior" and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Keri Chiodo at 202-293-9300 or kchiodo@psychologicalscience.org.

Keri Chiodo | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.psychologicalscience.org

Further reports about: Psychological Science Syntax linear syntax

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht The Great Unknown: Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents
19.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New Study Will Help Find the Best Locations for Thermal Power Stations in Iceland

19.01.2017 | Earth Sciences

Not of Divided Mind

19.01.2017 | Life Sciences

Molecule flash mob

19.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>