Control of imitation and social cognition: the interaction of motor mirroring and theory of mind

01 January 2014 → 31 December 2015
European funding: framework programme
Research disciplines
  • Social sciences
    • Animal experimental and comparative psychology
    • Applied psychology
    • Human experimental psychology
motor mirroring
Project description

Recent work based on ideomotor theory and Ihe discovery of the mirror neuron system has suggested that Ihe observalion

of an action is associated with Ihe aclivalion of the corresponding motor representation in the observer. In accordance with

this hypothesis it has been demonstrated that observing an action interferes with one's own actions when these are different

from those being observed. This. however. raises the question how we avoid automatic imitation? More specifically. how

can we distinguish the motor program activated by our intention from that triggered by observation? Recent neuroimaging

studies have revealed that the control of automatic imitative responses leads to activation in the anterior medial prefrontal

cortex and the tempora-parietal junction. These areas are core regions of a network involved in higher-order abilities in

social cognition. such as mentalizing (i.e .• the ability to reflect on other people's mental states). Based on such brain imaging

results. it has been hypothesized that the control of shared representations draws on the interaction between these "social""

brain regions and the mirror system. The proposed study aims to understand how high-level cognitive functions and motor

mirroring interact at a neural level in the control of imitative behaviour and to explore the functional overlap between the

control of shared representations and implicit forms of mentalizing. The research place itself at the interface between the

research on motor control and social neuroscience and wants to integrate knowledge developed in different domains. With

these objectives in mind. the applicant will conduct a series of studies by combining diferent methodological approaches and

techniques. such as brain stimulation techniques and neuroimaging. and use state-of-the-art computational tools. such as

multi-voxel patern analysis to analyze neuroimaging data.