People accurately predict the transition probabilities between actions

Mark A. Thornton, Diana I. Tamir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Social life is a complex dance. To coordinate gracefully with one's partners, one must predict their actions. Here, we investigated how people predict others' actions. We hypothesized that people can accurately predict others' future actions based on knowledge of their current actions, coupled with knowledge of action transitions. To test whether people have accurate knowledge of the transition probabilities between actions, we compared actual rates of action transitions-calculated from four large naturalistic datasets-to participants' ratings of the transition probabilities between corresponding sets of actions. In five preregistered studies, participants demonstrated accurate mental models of action transitions. Furthermore, we found that people drew upon conceptual knowledge of actions-described by the six-dimensional ACT-FASTaxonomy-to guide their accurate predictions. Together, these results indicate that people can accurately anticipate other people's moves in the dance of social life and that the structure of action knowledge may be tailored to making these predictions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbereabd4995
JournalScience Advances
Issue number9
StatePublished - Feb 24 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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