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The Sense of Joint Agency in Joint Action



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The sense of agency refers to the feeling of generating and controlling actions and their effects. Philosophers have proposed that when people coordinate their actions with others they may experience a sense of joint agency, or shared control over actions and their effects. However, little empirical work has investigated the sense of joint agency. Therefore, the primary goal of the present research was to directly examine people’s experiences of joint agency. In a series of experiments, we manipulated factors hypothesized to influence joint agency, and employed rating scales that asked participants specifically about their experience of joint agency. In Experiment 1, pairs of people coordinated their actions to produce tone sequences and then rated their sense of joint agency on a scale ranging from shared to independent control. People felt more shared than independent control overall, confirming that people experience joint agency during joint action. Furthermore, people felt stronger joint agency when they: a) produced sequences that required mutual coordination compared to sequences in which only one partner had to coordinate with the other, and b) held the role of follower compared to leader. Because joint agency is thought to include not only a sense of shared control over a continuous action, but also a sense of shared responsibility for action outcomes, in Experiment 2 we examined whether the same factors would influence people’s sense of shared responsibility for joint action outcomes. Participants rated their responsibility on a scale with endpoints indicating they were responsible (self-responsibility) or their partner was responsible (other-responsibility), and a midpoint indicating they both were responsible (shared responsibility). People felt more shared responsibility for correct outcomes and more self-responsibility for incorrect outcomes, regardless of the type of coordination or role they held within the joint action. Finally, in Experiment 3 we examined whether the predictability of a partner’s actions influenced the sense of shared control. Each participant coordinated with two confederate partners, the timing of whose actions was manipulated so that one partner’s actions were highly predictable in time and the other’s less predictable. People felt more shared control when they coordinated with the more predictable partner, even after controlling for joint performance accuracy and variability of the participant’s action timing. The results from these three experiments indicate that the sense of joint control is driven by people’s predictions about their partner’s actions, whereas joint responsibility is more strongly influenced by outcome valence. These finding have implications for theories of joint agency as well as our understanding of self-agency and everyday joint action.



agency, joint action, joint agency, shared control, shared responsibility, interpersonal coordination



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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