Visual categorization of social interactions

Stephan de la Rosa, Rabia N. Choudhery, Cristóbal Curio, Shimon Ullman, Liav Assif, Heinrich H. Bülthoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Prominent theories of action recognition suggest that during the recognition of actions the physical patterns of the action is associated with only one action interpretation (e.g., a person waving his arm is recognized as waving). In contrast to this view, studies examining the visual categorization of objects show that objects are recognized in multiple ways (e.g., a VW Beetle can be recognized as a car or a beetle) and that categorization performance is based on the visual and motor movement similarity between objects. Here, we studied whether we find evidence for multiple levels of categorization for social interactions (physical interactions with another person, e.g., handshakes). To do so, we compared visual categorization of objects and social interactions (Experiments 1 and 2) in a grouping task and assessed the usefulness of motor and visual cues (Experiments 3, 4, and 5) for object and social interaction categorization. Additionally, we measured recognition performance associated with recognizing objects and social interactions at different categorization levels (Experiment 6). We found that basic level object categories were associated with a clear recognition advantage compared to subordinate recognition but basic level social interaction categories provided only a little recognition advantage. Moreover, basic level object categories were more strongly associated with similar visual and motor cues than basic level social interaction categories. The results suggest that cognitive categories underlying the recognition of objects and social interactions are associated with different performances. These results are in line with the idea that the same action can be associated with several action interpretations (e.g., a person waving his arm can be recognized as waving or greeting).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1233-1271
Number of pages39
JournalVisual Cognition
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Feb 3


  • Basic level
  • Objects
  • Social interactions
  • Sub-ordinate level
  • Visual categorization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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