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Journal ArticleDOI

Automatic imitation? Imitative compatibility affects responses at high perceptual load.

01 Jan 2016-Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance (American Psychological Association)-Vol. 42, Iss: 4, pp 530-539

TL;DR: The data suggest that imitation can occur without attention, and that nonmovement distractor stimuli in the same configuration produced standard perceptual load effects and that results were not solely due to effector compatibility.
Abstract: Imitation involves matching the visual representation of another's action onto the observer's own motor program for that action. However, there has been some debate regarding the extent to which imitation is "automatic"-that is, occurs without attention. Participants performed a perceptual load task in which images of finger movements were presented as distractors. Responses to target letter stimuli were performed via finger movements that could be imitatively compatible (requiring the same finger movement) or incompatible with the distractor movements: In this common stimulus-response compatibility manipulation, the stimulus set comprises images of the response movements, producing an imitative compatibility effect. Attention to the distractor movements was manipulated by altering perceptual load through increasing the number of nontarget letter stimuli. If imitation requires attention, then at high perceptual load, imitative compatibility should not affect response times. In contrast, imitative compatibility influenced response times at high perceptual load, demonstrating that distractor movements were processed. However, the compatibility effect was reversed, suggesting that longer response times at high perceptual load tap into an inhibitory stage of distractor movement processing. A follow-up experiment manipulating temporal delay between targets and distractor movements supported this explanation. Further experiments confirmed that nonmovement distractor stimuli in the same configuration produced standard perceptual load effects and that results were not solely due to effector compatibility. These data suggest that imitation can occur without attention. (PsycINFO Database Record

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DOI:
10.1037/xhp0000166
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Citation for published version (APA):
Catmur, C. D. (2015). Automatic Imitation? Imitative Compatibility Affects Responses at High Perceptual Load.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. https://doi.org/10.1037/xhp0000166
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Download date: 09. Aug. 2022

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Submitted to JEP:HPP, 26
th
June 2015; revised version submitted 21
st
August 2015; second revision
submitted 7
th
October 2015; accepted 7
th
October 2015.
Automatic imitation? Imitative compatibility affects responses at high perceptual load
Caroline Catmur, School of Psychology, University of Surrey, UK; Department of Psychology, King’s
College London, UK
Email: c.catmur@surrey.ac.uk ; caroline.catmur@kcl.ac.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7848 8067
Running head: Imitation without attention
Word count: 7017

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Abstract
Imitation involves matching the visual representation of another’s action onto the observer’s own
motor program for that action. However, there has been some debate regarding the extent to which
imitation is “automatic” – i.e., occurs without attention. Participants performed a perceptual load
task in which images of finger movements were presented as distractors. Responses to target letter
stimuli were performed via finger movements which could be imitatively compatible (requiring the
same finger movement), or incompatible, with the distractor movements: in this common stimulus-
response compatibility manipulation, the stimulus set comprises images of the response
movements, producing an imitative compatibility effect. Attention to the distractor movements was
manipulated by altering perceptual load through increasing the number of non-target letter stimuli.
If imitation requires attention, then at high perceptual load, imitative compatibility should not affect
response times. In contrast, imitative compatibility influenced response times at high perceptual
load, demonstrating that distractor movements were processed. However, the compatibility effect
was reversed, suggesting that longer response times at high perceptual load tap into an inhibitory
stage of distractor movement processing. A follow-up experiment manipulating temporal delay
between targets and distractor movements supported this explanation. Further experiments
confirmed that non-movement distractor stimuli in the same configuration produced standard
perceptual load effects, and that results were not solely due to effector compatibility. These data
suggest that imitation can occur without attention.
Keywords: automatic imitation; attention; social cognition; stimulus-response compatibility;
perceptual load

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Humans imitate the movements of their interaction partners, copying body language, gestures, and
posture. This mimicry of others’ actions is thought to be important for social interaction (Chartrand
& Bargh, 1999; Chartrand & Lakin, 2013). It is also thought to be unintentional, that is, non-
deliberate: we imitate without intending to and may be unaware that we are doing so.
The psychological function unique to imitation is the ability to match the visual representation of
another’s action onto the observer’s own motor program for that action (Heyes, 2001). In order to
isolate this function in the laboratory, stimulus-response compatibility experiments have been
developed in which both stimuli and responses comprise configural body movements. On each trial
of such experiments, a formally task-irrelevant movement stimulus is presented, alongside a task-
relevant imperative cue to which a response movement must be made (see Figure 1A). The identity
of the task-irrelevant movement stimulus is manipulated such that it is either compatible (activating
the same response) or incompatible (activating a different response) with the required response
movement. Compatible trials reliably elicit faster response times to the cue than do incompatible
trials, demonstrating an imitative compatibility effect: a stimulus-response compatibility effect in
which compatibility is defined in terms of the configural body movements that comprise the
stimulus and response sets (Heyes, 2011; Stürmer, Aschersleben, & Prinz, 2000). The presence of
such an effect suggests that the visual representation of the irrelevant movement stimulus is
matched onto the observer’s motor representation of the same movement, thus facilitating
responses on compatible trials and interfering with responses on incompatible trials. Importantly,
such an effect is independent of spatial compatibility, remaining present when spatial compatibility
is controlled (Bertenthal, Longo, & Kosobud, 2006; Catmur & Heyes, 2011).
The present study investigated the extent to which such imitative compatibility effects occur without
attention. This is of relevance for several reasons. There has been some debate (Heyes, 2011; Liepelt
& Brass, 2010; Liepelt, von Cramon, & Brass, 2008) regarding whether imitative compatibility effects
are automatic, that is non-controlled, processes; and one test of whether a process is automatic is

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whether it occurs without attention (Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977). One reason to question whether
imitative compatibility effects are the result of an automatic process is the finding that such effects,
unlike spatial compatibility effects, seem to increase as response time increases (Brass, Bekkering, &
Prinz, 2001; Pfister, Dignath, Hommel, & Kunde, 2013). This could indicate that imitative
compatibility effects are the result of a controlled, rather than an automatic, process. Alternatively,
it could be due to the relative perceptual complexity of the movement stimuli involved in imitative
compatibility tasks: it may take longer to discriminate two body movement stimuli from each other
than it takes to discriminate two spatial locations (Catmur & Heyes, 2011).
Another reason to test whether imitation can occur without attention is that the social psychological
literature on naturalistic mimicry suggests that such phenomena do indeed take place without
attention (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999). Evidence that imitation can occur without attention would add
to evidence that lab-based imitation experiments using stimulus-response compatibility paradigms
are measuring the same psychological function as more naturalistic studies. Finally, the question of
whether attention is required to process a stimulus addresses the debate regarding the presence of
specialised or privileged processing mechanisms for social versus non-social stimuli (e.g. Gauthier et
al., 2014; McKone, Kanwisher, & Duchaine, 2007; Mitchell, 2008; Scholz, Triantafyllou, Whitfield-
Gabrieli, Brown, & Saxe, 2009). It has previously been demonstrated that familiar faces, but not
other objects, can be identified without attention (Lavie, Ro, & Russell, 2003), suggesting that social
stimuli may be processed by a different or privileged mechanism which requires less attention than
other types of stimuli. However, it is not clear whether such privileged processing applies to other
social stimuli: Burton and colleagues (2009) found that eye gaze did not influence responses when
presented outside the focus of attention, suggesting that attention is required to process others’ eye
gaze. Therefore it still remains unclear whether non-face social stimuli such as body movements can
be processed without attention.

Figures (6)
Citations
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Journal ArticleDOI
Emiel Cracco1, Lara Bardi1, Charlotte Desmet1, Oliver Genschow2  +5 moreInstitutions (3)
TL;DR: Findings point toward actor–imitator similarity as a crucial modulator of automatic imitation and challenge the view that imitative tendencies are an indicator of social functioning.
Abstract: Automatic imitation is the finding that movement execution is facilitated by compatible and impeded by incompatible observed movements. In the past 15 years, automatic imitation has been studied to understand the relation between perception and action in social interaction. Although research on this topic started in cognitive science, interest quickly spread to related disciplines such as social psychology, clinical psychology, and neuroscience. However, important theoretical questions have remained unanswered. Therefore, in the present meta-analysis, we evaluated seven key questions on automatic imitation. The results, based on 161 studies containing 226 experiments, revealed an overall effect size of gz = 0.95, 95% CI [0.88, 1.02]. Moderator analyses identified automatic imitation as a flexible, largely automatic process that is driven by movement and effector compatibility, but is also influenced by spatial compatibility. Automatic imitation was found to be stronger for forced choice tasks than for simple response tasks, for human agents than for nonhuman agents, and for goalless actions than for goal-directed actions. However, it was not modulated by more subtle factors such as animacy beliefs, motion profiles, or visual perspective. Finally, there was no evidence for a relation between automatic imitation and either empathy or autism. Among other things, these findings point toward actor-imitator similarity as a crucial modulator of automatic imitation and challenge the view that imitative tendencies are an indicator of social functioning. The current meta-analysis has important theoretical implications and sheds light on longstanding controversies in the literature on automatic imitation and related domains. (PsycINFO Database Record

90 citations


Cites background or result from "Automatic imitation? Imitative comp..."

  • ...…is known about its speed (Catmur & Heyes, 2011; Cracco et al., 2018; Wiggett, Downing, & Tipper, 2013) and the role of awareness (Mele, Mattiassi, & Urgesi, 2014) or attention (Bach, Peatfield, & Tipper, 2007; Catmur, 2016; Chong, Cunnington, Williams, & Mattingley, 2009; Cracco & Brass, 2017)....

    [...]

  • ...Similarly, using a different technique, another study showed that increasing the perceptual load did not make automatic imitation disappear but instead made it reverse (Catmur, 2016)....

    [...]

  • ...In other words, it was argued that stimulus movements were still processed when attentional load was high but that this led to a negative imitation effect attributable to inhibitory processes (Catmur, 2016)....

    [...]


Journal ArticleDOI
Caroline Catmur1Institutions (1)
TL;DR: It is concluded that the data do not support the direct perception account, and mirror neurons may be involved in lower-level processes of action perception, but there is no evidence to support their involvement in the type of higher-level intention understanding that is proposed by thedirect perception account.
Abstract: This review asks whether observers can obtain information about others' intentions from observation of their actions; and if so, whether this process is performed using direct perceptual or inferential processes (prominent examples of each being the intention understanding theory of mirror neuron function, and mentalizing accounts of intention understanding, respectively). I propose four conditions that should be fulfilled in order to support a direct perception account, and suggest that only two of these conditions are supported by the existing data. I then propose and review three further sources of evidence which have the potential to inform this debate, concluding that the data do not support the direct perception account. In particular, mirror neurons may be involved in lower-level processes of action perception, but there is no evidence to support their involvement in the type of higher-level intention understanding that is proposed by the direct perception account.

51 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
22 Sep 2016-PLOS ONE
TL;DR: It is demonstrated that the goal structure of an expected interaction will determine the extent to which intergroup relations influence imitation, supporting a social identity approach.
Abstract: Imitation–matching the configural body movements of another individual–plays a crucial part in social interaction. We investigated whether automatic imitation is not only influenced by who we imitate (ingroup vs. outgroup member) but also by the nature of an expected interaction situation (competitive vs. cooperative). In line with assumptions from Social Identity Theory), we predicted that both social group membership and the expected situation impact on the level of automatic imitation. We adopted a 2 (group membership target: ingroup, outgroup) x 2 (situation: cooperative, competitive) design. The dependent variable was the degree to which participants imitated the target in a reaction time automatic imitation task. 99 female students from two British Universities participated. We found a significant two-way interaction on the imitation effect. When interacting in expectation of cooperation, imitation was stronger for an ingroup target compared to an outgroup target. However, this was not the case in the competitive condition where imitation did not differ between ingroup and outgroup target. This demonstrates that the goal structure of an expected interaction will determine the extent to which intergroup relations influence imitation, supporting a social identity approach.

20 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
Emiel Cracco1, Marcel Brass1Institutions (1)
TL;DR: It is shown that reaction time indices of automatic imitation measure covert imitative response tendencies and that mapping out the brain networks does not suffice to understand the brain processes underlying imitative control.
Abstract: In his review, Ramsey (2018) argues that it is currently unclear what reaction time indices of automatic imitation measure due to lacking research on their validity and domain-specificity. In our commentary, we argue that this conclusion is based on two misconceptions, namely that automatic imitation was designed as a laboratory measure of motor mimicry and that psychometric approaches to validity can readily be applied to experimental settings. We then show that reaction time indices of automatic imitation measure covert imitative response tendencies. Furthermore, while irrelevant for their validity, we argue that these indices are associated with some, but not necessarily all, types of overt imitation. Finally, we argue that mapping out the brain networks does not suffice to understand the brain processes underlying imitative control.

19 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
Sonia Betti1, Umberto Castiello1, Umberto Castiello2, Silvia Guerra1  +1 moreInstitutions (2)
20 Mar 2017-PLOS ONE
TL;DR: Evidence that social motor preparation is impermeable to attentional interference is provided and that a double dissociation is present between overt orienting of spatial attention and neurophysiological markers of action observation is provided.
Abstract: Observing moving body parts can automatically activate topographically corresponding motor representations in the primary motor cortex (M1), the so-called direct matching. Novel neurophysiological findings from social contexts are nonetheless proving that this process is not automatic as previously thought. The motor system can flexibly shift from imitative to incongruent motor preparation, when requested by a social gesture. In the present study we aim to bring an increase in the literature by assessing whether and how diverting overt spatial attention might affect motor preparation in contexts requiring interactive responses from the onlooker. Experiment 1 shows that overt attention-although anchored to an observed biological movement-can be captured by a target object as soon as a social request for it becomes evident. Experiment 2 reveals that the appearance of a short-lasting red dot in the contralateral space can divert attention from the target, but not from the biological movement. Nevertheless, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over M1 combined with electromyography (EMG) recordings (Experiment 3) indicates that attentional interference reduces corticospinal excitability related to the observed movement, but not motor preparation for a complementary action on the target. This work provides evidence that social motor preparation is impermeable to attentional interference and that a double dissociation is present between overt orienting of spatial attention and neurophysiological markers of action observation.

12 citations


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"Automatic imitation? Imitative comp..." refers result in this paper

  • ...These data add to evidence that lab-based experiments are measuring the same function as that which takes place in more naturalistic studies in which imitation occurs without attention (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999)....

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Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: It is concluded that physical separation is not a sufficient condition for selective perception; overloading perception is also required, which allows a compromise between early and late selection views and resolves apparent discrepancies in previous work.
Abstract: The early and late selection debate may be resolved if perceptual load of relevant information determines the selective processing of irrelevant information. This hypothesis was tested in 3 studies; all used a variation of the response competition paradigm to measure irrelevant processing when load in the relevant processing was varied. Perceptual load was manipulated by relevant display set size or by different processing requirements for identical displays. These included the requirement to process conjunctions versus isolated features and the requirement to perform simple detection of a character's presence versus difficult identification of its size and position. Distractors' interference was found only under low-load conditions. Because the distractor was usually clearly distinct from the target, it is concluded that physical separation is not a sufficient condition for selective perception; overloading perception is also required. This allows a compromise between early and late selection views and resolves apparent discrepancies in previous work.

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"Automatic imitation? Imitative comp..." refers methods in this paper

  • ...Experiment 2 manipulated target-distractor compatibility at each of four levels of perceptual load, using the same manipulation as Lavie (1995): on compatible trials, the distractor stimulus comprised the same letter as the target, while on incompatible trials it was the alternative letter....

    [...]

  • ...…of a standard perceptual load effect was tested using distractor letter stimuli in order to make the manipulation as similar as possible to that of Lavie (1995), while also including the hand stimuli in order to assess any effect of increased perceptual complexity on the perceptual load effect....

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Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: The present study was designed to examine the hypothesis that stimulus-response arrangements with high ideomotor compatibility lead to substantial compatibility effects even in simple response tasks. In Experiment 1, participants executed pre-instructed finger movements in response to compatible and incompatible finger movements. A pronounced reaction time advantage was found for compatible as compared to incompatible trials. Experiment 2 revealed a much smaller compatibility effect for less ideomotor-compatible object movements compared to finger movements. Experiment 3 presented normal stimuli (hand upright) and flipped stimuli (hand upside-down). Two components were found to contribute to the compatibility effect, a dynamic spatial compatibility component (related to movement directions) and an ideomotor component (related to movement types). The implications of these results for theories about stimulus-response compatibility (SRC) as well as for theories about imitation are discussed.

658 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
Geraint Rees, Chris Frith1, Nilli Lavie1Institutions (1)
28 Nov 1997-Science
Abstract: Lavie's theory of attention proposes that the processing load in a relevant task determines the extent to which irrelevant distractors are processed. This theory was tested by asking participants in a study to perform linguistic tasks of low or high load while ignoring irrelevant visual motion in the periphery of the display. Although task and distractor were unrelated, both functional imaging of motion-related activity in cortical area V5 and psychophysical measures of the motion aftereffect showed reduced motion processing during high load in the linguistic task. These findings fulfill the prediction that perception of irrelevant distractors depends on the relevant processing load.

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