Six Dimensions Describe Action Understanding: The ACT-FASTaxonomy

Mark A. Thornton, Diana I. Tamir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Humans engage in a wide variety of different actions and activities. These range from simple motor actions like reaching for an object, to complex activities like governing a nation. Navigating everyday life requires people to make sense of this diversity of actions. We suggest that the mind simplifies this complex domain by attending primarily to the most essential features of actions. Using a parsimonious set of action dimensions, the mind can organize action knowledge in a low-dimensional representational space. In seven studies, we derive and validate such an action taxonomy. Study 1 uses large-scale text analyses to generate and test potential action dimensions. Study 2 validates interpretable labels for these dimensions. Studies 3–5 demonstrate that these dimensions can explain human judgments about actions. We perform model selection on data from these studies to arrive at the optimal set of six psychological dimensions, together forming the Abstraction, Creation, Tradition, Food, Animacy, Spiritualism Taxonomy (ACT-FAST). Study 6 demonstrates that ACT-FAST can predict socially relevant qualities of actions, including how, when, where, why, and by whom they are performed. Finally, Study 7 shows that ACT-FAST can explain action-related patterns of brain activity using naturalistic functional MRI (MRI). Together, these studies reveal the dimensional structure the mind applies to organize action concepts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)577-605
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 30 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Action
  • Fmri
  • Machine learning
  • Taxonomy
  • Text analysis


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