2014-2020 ERC Consolidator grant Joint action expertise: behavioral, cognitive, and neural mechanisms for joint action learning (JAXPERTISE) led by Natalie Sebanz

Human life is full of joint action, and our achievements are, to a large extent, joint achievements that require the coordination of two or more individuals. Piano duets and tangos, bridges and towers, as well as complex technical and medical operations rely on and exist because of collaborative actions. In recent years, research has begun to identify the basic mechanisms enabling human collaboration. A key insight has been that understanding collaboration involves not only an understanding of people’s tendencies to cooperate or defect, but also requires a detailed investigation of the mechanisms enabling moment to moment interpersonal coordination. Previous work has studied these mechanisms by focusing on simple tasks that can be performed together without much practice. However, a striking aspect of human joint action is the expertise interaction partners acquire together. How people acquire such joint expertise is still poorly understood. JAXPERTISE will break new ground by identifying the behavioural, cognitive, and neural mechanisms underlying the learning of joint action.
Participating in joint activities and observing others performing joint actions is also a motor for individual development, and may result in learning that goes significantly beyond the actions that make up the joint activity. Although the role of joint activities for individual learning has long been recognized, the mechanisms underlying individual learning through engagement in joint activities remain to be spelled out from a cognitive science perspective. JAXPERTISE will make this crucial step by investigating how joint action affects memory and individual skill learning.
To develop new models of joint action learning and individual learning through joint action, carefully designed laboratory experiments will test specific predictions. These experiments aim to optimize the balance between capturing relevant interpersonal phenomena and maximizing experimental control. The focus is on dyads and small groups to pinpoint basic behavioural, cognitive, and neural processes. The proposed studies employ behavioural measures (reaction times, movement trajectories, eye gaze) as well as electroencephalography and physiological measures (respiration). Studies tracing learning processes in novices will be complemented by studies that analyze expert performance in music and dance. New methodological approaches, such as training participants to regulate each other’s brain activity, will lead to methodological breakthroughs in the study of joint action.

JAXPERTISE will generate basic scientific knowledge that will be relevant to a large number of different disciplines in the social sciences, cognitive sciences, and humanities. The insights gained in this project will have impact on 1) the development of autonomous robots designed to collaborate with humans, 2) the development of social training interventions designed to overcome social deficits in disorders like autism, and 3) cognitive anthropology research on cultural practices involving group rituals and teaching.