How can ten fingers shape a pot? Evidence for equivalent function in culturally distinct motor skills

Enora Gandon, Reinoud J. Bootsma, John A. Endler, Leore Grosman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Behavioural variability is likely to emerge when a particular task is performed in different cultural settings, assuming that part of human motor behaviour is influenced by culture. In analysing motor behaviour it is useful to distinguish how the action is performed from the result achieved. Does cultural environment lead to specific cultural motor skills? Are there differences between cultures both in the skills themselves and in the corresponding outcomes? Here we analyse the skill of pottery wheel-throwing in French and Indian cultural environments. Our specific goal was to examine the ability of expert potters from distinct cultural settings to reproduce a common model shape (a sphere). The operational aspects of motor performance were captured through the analysis of the hand positions used by the potters during the fashioning process. In parallel, the outcomes were captured by the geometrical characteristics of the vessels produced. As expected, results revealed a cultural influence on the operational aspects of the potters' motor skill. Yet, the marked cultural differences in hand positions used did not give rise to noticeable differences in the shapes of the vessels produced. Hence, for the simple model form studied, the culturally-specific motor traditions of the French and Indian potters gave rise to an equivalent outcome, that is shape uniformity. Further work is needed to test whether such equivalence is also observed in more complex ceramic shapes.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere81614
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
StatePublished - 27 Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes


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