A recently published research paper has provided further insight into how humans decide how to use an object, a question which has long been of interest to psychologists.

Traditionally it was assumed that humans simply recognise an object (e.g. a cup) and then look up what actions can be performed with a cup (e.g. drink). However in the last a couple of decades it has become clear that we can also use the objects’ geometrical features (e.g. open cylinder with handle) to make the same decision. This paper presents the first strong evidence that we use the same strategy for how object pairs can be used together (e.g. pour the content of a bottle into a glass). To be more specific , without knowing the objects’ names we are able to decide which object is the ‘active’ object (e.g. bottle) and which one is the ‘passive’ object (e.g. glass).

Dietmar Heinke

This evidence has profound implications for the understanding of humans’ unique ability to use tools.


Xu, S, Humphreys, G & Heinke, D 2015, 'Implied actions between paired objects lead to affordance selection by inhibition' Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, vol 41, no. 4., 10.1037/xhp0000059