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PERCEPTION AND ACTION ARE TIGHTLY LINKED: objects may be perceived not only in terms of visual features, but also in terms of possibilities for action. Previous studies showed that when a centrally located object has a salient graspable feature (e.g., a handle), it facilitates motor responses corresponding with the feature's position. However, such so-called affordance effects have been criticized as resulting from spatial compatibility effects, due to the visual asymmetry created by the graspable feature, irrespective of any affordances. In order to dissociate between affordance and spatial compatibility effects, we asked participants to perform a simple reaction-time task to typically graspable and non-graspable objects with similar visual features (e.g., lollipop and stop sign). Responses were measured using either electromyography (EMG) on proximal arm muscles during reaching-like movements, or with finger key-presses. In both EMG and button press measurements, participants responded faster when the object was either presented in the same location as the responding hand, or was affordable, resulting in significant and independent spatial compatibility and affordance effects, but no interaction. Furthermore, while the spatial compatibility effect was present from the earliest stages of movement preparation and throughout the different stages of movement execution, the affordance effect was restricted to the early stages of movement execution. Finally, we tested a small group of unilateral arm amputees using EMG, and found residual spatial compatibility but no affordance, suggesting that spatial compatibility effects do not necessarily rely on individuals' available affordances. Our results show dissociation between affordance and spatial compatibility effects, and suggest that rather than evoking the specific motor action most suitable for interaction with the viewed object, graspable objects prompt the motor system in a general, body-part independent fashion.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Psychol

Publication Date





EMG, affordance, amputees, hand, stimulus-response