Cues to Intention – Being Attuned To Your Next Move
Adelaide Manley

In order to socially interact with others, we need to recognize their intentions or goals. As it turns out, when we watch other people move, we tend to predict what they will do next.
Researchers in Italy wanted to know how skillful people are at differentiating between social and non-social intentions based on movement information across two experiments.

In the first experiment, participants watched videos of a model grabbing a wooden block with varying intentions: cooperating with a partner to build an object, competing with an opponent, or just completing an individual action.

The researchers hypothesized that participants should be able to judge the model’s intentions just by watching this initial ‘reach-to-grasp’ movement of the block.

In the second experiment, the researchers investigated what cues participants use to differentiate between the model’s various movements and intentions. Using spatial occlusion, areas of the model’s movement were concealed. Either the forearm and hand or the model’s face was visually available to observe.

What did these researchers find?

Generally speaking, movement cues are useful for distinguishing between social and non-social goals.

Receiving advance movement information enabled participants to predict the model’s next move. Specifically, participants could tell if the intent was to cooperate, compete, or perform an individual action just based on viewing the person reaching towards and grasping the block.

In terms of cues, ‘arm’ cues were more helpful for distinguishing between natural-speed and fast-speed movements compared to ‘face’ cues. Conversely, ‘face’ cues were more useful for distinguishing between cooperative and natural-speed movements, and between competitive and fast-speed movements.

What does this really mean?

Speed information tends to be conveyed by ‘arm’ cues, while facial cues are typically used to distinguish between social and individual movements. The orientation of faces, and eye gaze specifically, are involved in social attention.

Thus, in social situations, we tend to read peoples’ faces to figure out whether they are going to act on a shared goal or not.

The findings overall suggest that we are sensitive to others’ early movement information based on particular cues and we can use this to predict their next move.

About the Author: Adelaide Manley is an undergraduate student studying psychology and family & child studies at the University of Guelph. After graduation, she is hoping to pursue a Master of Social Work.


Sartori, L., Becchio, C., & Castiello, U. (2011). Cues to intention: The role of movement information. Cognition, 119(2), 242-252.