Predicting others’ actions is an essential part of acting in the social world. Action kinematics have been proposed to be a cue about others’ intentions. It is still an open question as to whether adults can use kinematic information in naturalistic settings when presented as a part of a richer visual scene than previously examined. We investigated adults’ intention perceptions from kinematics using naturalistic stimuli in two experiments. In experiment 1, thirty participants watched grasp-to-drink and grasp-to-place movements and identified the movement intention (to drink or to place), whilst their mouth-opening muscle activity was measured with electromyography (EMG) to examine participants’ motor simulation of the observed actions. We found anecdotal evidence that participants could correctly identify the intentions from the action kinematics, although we found no evidence for increased activation of their mylohyoid muscle during the observation of grasp-to-drink compared to grasp-to-place actions. In pre-registered experiment 2, fifty participants completed the same task online. With the increased statistical power, we found strong evidence that participants were not able to discriminate intentions based on movement kinematics. Together, our findings suggest that the role of action kinematics in intention perception is more complex than previously assumed. Although previous research indicates that under certain circumstances observers can perceive and act upon intention-specific kinematic information, perceptual differences in everyday scenes or the observers’ ability to use kinematic information in more naturalistic scenes seems limited.
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