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01-07-2014 | Original Article | Uitgave 4/2014

Psychological Research 4/2014

A test of the embodied simulation theory of object perception: potentiation of responses to artifacts and animals

Psychological Research > Uitgave 4/2014
Heath E. Matheson, Nicole C. White, Patricia A. McMullen


Theories of embodied object representation predict a tight association between sensorimotor processes and visual processing of manipulable objects. Previous research has shown that object handles can ‘potentiate’ a manual response (i.e., button press) to a congruent location. This potentiation effect is taken as evidence that objects automatically evoke sensorimotor simulations in response to the visual presentation of manipulable objects. In the present series of experiments, we investigated a critical prediction of the theory of embodied object representations that potentiation effects should be observed with manipulable artifacts but not non-manipulable animals. In four experiments we show that (a) potentiation effects are observed with animals and artifacts; (b) potentiation effects depend on the absolute size of the objects and (c) task context influences the presence/absence of potentiation effects. We conclude that potentiation effects do not provide evidence for embodied object representations, but are suggestive of a more general stimulus–response compatibility effect that may depend on the distribution of attention to different object features.

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