Towards a therapeutic interaction game: the informational coupling in joint interception


Host Institution: University Medical Center Groningen

Department that hosts the PhD: Human Movement Science

Contact: Dr. Zaal (use this email contact only to request additional information, do NOT use this email for applications)


Project description

This PhD projects aims at establishing the details of the informational coupling in joint interception in individuals with and without ASD. The project will adopt the doubles-pong task (see below), in which two individuals have to work together to intercept a virtual ball. Previous work suggested that the coupling of the two individuals relates to information specifying interceptability. The project will start with explicitly testing the ability to judge interceptability for oneself and for another, combined with analyses aimed at determining the visual basis for this ability. In the doubles-pong game, both players use an input device to control their on-screen paddles, both moving along a shared interception axis, and the ball needs to be intercepted by only one of the two paddles. By manipulating ball trajectories and player abilities (through manipulating the link between input device and paddle movement), the exact nature of the informational variable specifying interceptability will be unravelled. Next, individuals with ASD will be tested and results of individuals with and without ASD will be compared. Finally, the detailed model of the visual coupling established in this project will be combined with the model for the control in individual interception (Project 6), to arrive at a sophisticated model that will serve to define a doubles-pong game with an artificial agent, that might be used in therapy.


Doubles pong (task employed in Projects 5,6, 7 and 8)

The doubles pong setup (from Benerink et al 2016)

In the doubles-pong task, two individuals have to coordinate their actions in such a way that one of them intercepts an approaching virtual ball. Each player controls a separate paddle that moves along the bottom of a shared computer screen. The ball that falls under an angle from the top of the screen needs to be intercepted by one of the paddles, without the two paddles colliding. Previous research has suggested that the division of interception space by the two players emerges from their interactions rather than being fixed a priori. In the cases that a ball is directed in between the two individuals’ starting positions, both start moving and one player subsequently abandons this movement, presumably when (s)he sees that the other is on an interception course.


People involved

Dr. Zaal

Prof. dr. Bootsma

Dr. Casanova

Dr. Tacconi


Key publications

Benerink, N. H., Zaal, F. T. J. M., Casanova, R., Bonnardel, N. & Bootsma, R. J. (2016). Playing ‘pong’ together: Emergent coordination in a doubles interception task. Frontiers in Psychology7, 1910.

Bootsma, R. J., Ledouit, S., Casanova, R. & Zaal, F. T. J. M. (2016). Fractional-order information in the visual control of lateral locomotor interception. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance42(4), 517–529.

Postma, D. B. W., Lemmink, K. A. P. M., & Zaal, F. T. J. M. (2018). The affordance of catchability in running to intercept fly balls. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance44(9), 1336–1347.


Specific required skills of PhD student

Skill area
Language (writing) English
Language (speaking) English
Programming Matlab or Python
Statistics Mixed Models
Statistical programs R
Background Human Movement Sciences

Sport and Exercise science


Experimental Psychology

Biomedical Engineering

Cognitive Science

Rehabilitation Science

Project specific knowledge


Project characteristics

Primary focus project Behavioral experiments with humans

Able-bodied adults without disorders

Children and adults with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)

Methods End-effector kinematics, statistical modelling