The brain's intention to imitate: the neurobiology of intentional versus automatic imitation

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Abstract

Whenever we observe a movement of a conspecific, our mirror neuron system becomes activated, urging us to imitate the observed movement. However, because such automatic imitation is not always appropriate, an inhibitive component keeping us from imitating everything we see seems crucial for an effective social behavior. This becomes evident from neuropsychological conditions like echopraxia, in which this suppression is absent. Here, we unraveled the neurodynamics underlying this proposed inhibition of automatic imitation by measuring and manipulating brain activity during the execution of a stimulus-response compatibility paradigm. Within the identified connectivity network, right middle/inferior frontal cortex sends neural input concerning general response inhibition to right premotor cortex, which is involved in automatic imitation. Subsequently, the fully prepared imitative response is sent to left opercular cortex that functions as a final gating mechanism for intentional imitation. We propose an informed neurocognitive model of inhibition of automatic imitation, suggesting a functional dissociation between automatic and intentional imitation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2338-2351
JournalCerebral Cortex
Volume19
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009

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