Miller, L.E. & Saygin, A.P. (2013) Intersubject variability in the perception of biological motion: Links to social cognition and motor imagery. Cognition, 128(2): 140-8. (Download)
Biological motion perception is often claimed to support social cognition, and to rely upon embodied representations and motor imagery. Are people with higher levels of social traits or more vivid motor imagery better at biological motion perception? We administered four experiments measuring sensitivity in using (global) form and (local) motion cues in biological motion, plus well-established measures of social cognition (e.g., empathy) and motor imagery (e.g., kinesthetic motor imagery). This first systematic investigation of individual variability in biological motion processing demonstrated significant relationships between these domains, along with a dissociation. Sensitivity for using form cues in biological motion processing was correlated with social (and not the imagery) measures; sensitivity for using motion cues was correlated with motor imagery (and not the social) measures. These results could not be explained by performance on non-biological control stimuli. We thus show that although both social cognition and motor imagery predict sensitivity to biological motion, these skills likely tap into different aspects of perception.