Gredebäck, G., & Falck-Ytter, T. (2015) Eye movements during action observation. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10, 591-598.

An important element in social interactions is to predict the goals of others including the goals of others’ manual actions. Over a decade ago, a seminal paper by Flanagan and Johansson (Flanagan J. R., Johansson, R. S. [2003]. Action plans used in action observation. Nature, 14, 769-771) demonstrated that, when observing other people reaching for objects, the observer’s gaze arrives at the goal before the action is completed. Moreover, those authors proposed that this behavior was mediated by an embodied process, which takes advantage of the observer’s motor knowledge. Here, we scrutinize work that has followed that seminal paper. We include studies on adults that use combined eye tracking and transcranial magnetic stimulation technologies to test causal hypotheses about underlying brain circuits. We also include developmental studies on human infants. We conclude that, although several aspects of the embodied process of predictive eye movements remain to be clarified, current evidence strongly suggests that the motor system plays a causal role in guiding predictive gaze shifts that focus on another person’s future goal. The early emergence of the predictive gaze in infant development underlines its importance for social cognition and interaction.