Perceiving, remembering, and communicating structure in events

Jeffrey M. Zacks, Barbara Tversky, Gowri Iyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

406 Scopus citations


How do people perceive routine events, such as making a bed, as these events unfold in time? Research on knowledge structures suggests that people conceive of events as goal-directed partonomic hierarchies. Here, participants segmented videos of events into coarse and fine units on separate viewings: some described the activity of each unit as well. Both segmentation and descriptions support the hierarchical bias hypothesis in event perception: Observers spontaneously encoded the events in terms of partonomic hierarchies. Hierarchical organization was strengthened by simultaneous description and, to a weaker extent, by familiarity. Describing from memory rather than perception yielded fewer units but did not alter the qualitative nature of the descriptions. Although the descriptions were telegraphic and without communicative intent, their hierarchical structure was evident to naive readers. The data suggest that cognitive schemata mediate between perceptual and functional information about events and indicate that these knowledge structures may be organized around object/action units.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-58
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2001


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