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Imitation poses a unique problem: how does the imitator know what pattern of motor activation will make their action look like that of the model? Specialist theories suggest that this correspondence problem has a unique solution; there are functional and neurological mechanisms dedicated to controlling imitation. Generalist theories propose that the problem is solved by general mechanisms of associative learning and action control. Recent research in cognitive neuroscience, stimulated by the discovery of mirror neurons, supports generalist solutions. Imitation is based on the automatic activation of motor representations by movement observation. These externally triggered motor representations are then used to reproduce the observed behaviour. This imitative capacity depends on learned perceptual-motor links. Finally, mechanisms distinguishing self from other are implicated in the inhibition of imitative behaviour.

Original publication




Journal article


Trends Cogn Sci

Publication Date





489 - 495


Animals, Brain, Cognition, Humans, Imitative Behavior, Learning, Movement, Neurons, Psychomotor Performance, Visual Perception, Volition