Hierarchical integration of communicative and spatial perspective-taking demands in sensorimotor control of referential pointing

Rui Liu*, Sara Bögels, Geoffrey Bird, W. Pieter Medendorp, Ivan Toni

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
17 Downloads (Pure)


Recognized as a simple communicative behavior, referential pointing is cognitively complex because it invites a communicator to consider an addressee's knowledge. Although we know referential pointing is affected by addressees’ physical location, it remains unclear whether and how communicators’ inferences about addressees’ mental representation of the interaction space influence sensorimotor control of referential pointing. The communicative perspective-taking task requires a communicator to point at one out of multiple referents either to instruct an addressee which one should be selected (communicative, COM) or to predict which one the addressee will select (non-communicative, NCOM), based on either which referents can be seen (Level-1 perspective-taking, PT1) or how the referents were perceived (Level-2 perspective-taking, PT2) by the addressee. Communicators took longer to initiate the movements in PT2 than PT1 trials, and they held their pointing fingers for longer at the referent in COM than NCOM trials. The novel findings of this study pertain to trajectory control of the pointing movements. Increasing both communicative and perspective-taking demands led to longer pointing trajectories, with an under-additive interaction between those two experimental factors. This finding suggests that participants generate communicative behaviors that are as informative as required rather than overly exaggerated displays, by integrating communicative and perspective-taking information hierarchically during sensorimotor control. This observation has consequences for models of human communication. It implies that the format of communicative and perspective-taking knowledge needs to be commensurate with the movement dynamics controlled by the sensorimotor system.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13084
Number of pages24
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the research program Language in Interaction, financed by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). Rui Liu was supported by a grant from the China Scholarship Council (CSC; 201604910514). The authors would like to thank Gabriela Forgione for helping with data acquisition.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Cognitive Science published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Cognitive Science Society (CSS).


  • Perspective-taking
  • Spatial representation
  • Kinematics
  • Social interaction
  • Recipient design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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