Early warning signals in motion inference

Yuval Hart, Maryam Vaziri-Pashkam, L. Mahadevan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The ability to infer intention lies at the basis of many social interactions played out via motor actions. We consider a simple paradigm of this ability in humans using data from experiments simulating an antagonistic game between an Attacker and a Blocker. Evidence shows early inference of an Attacker move by as much as 100ms but the nature of the informational cues signaling the impending move remains unknown. We show that the transition to action has the hallmark of a critical transition that is accompanied by early warning signals. These early warning signals occur as much as 130 ms before motion ensues—showing a sharp rise in motion autocorrelation at lag-1 and a sharp rise in the autocorrelation decay time. The early warning signals further correlate strongly with Blocker response times. We analyze the variance of the motion near the point of transition and find that it diverges in a manner consistent with the dynamics of a fold-transition. To test if humans can recognize and act upon these early warning signals, we simulate the dynamics of fold-transition events and ask people to recognize the onset of directional motion: participants react faster to fold-transition dynamics than to its uncorrelated counterpart. Together, our findings suggest that people can recognize the intent and onset of motion by inferring its early warning signals.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere1007821
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Hart et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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