Social attitudes modulate automatic imitation
Leighton J., Bird G., Orsini C., Heyes C.
In naturalistic interpersonal settings, mimicry or "automatic imitation" generates liking, affiliation, cooperation and other positive social attitudes. The purpose of this study was to find out whether the relationship between social attitudes and mimicry is bidirectional: Do social attitudes have a direct and specific effect on mimicry? Participants were primed with pro-social, neutral or anti-social words in a scrambled sentence task. They were then tested for mimicry using a stimulus-response compatibility procedure. In this procedure, participants were required to perform a pre-specified movement (e.g. opening their hand) on presentation of a compatible (open) or incompatible (close) hand movement. Reaction time data were collected using electromyography (EMG) and the magnitude of the mimicry/automatic imitation effect was calculated by subtracting reaction times on compatible trials from those on incompatible trials. Pro-social priming produced a larger automatic imitation effect than anti-social priming, indicating that the relationship between mimicry and social attitudes is bidirectional, and that social attitudes have a direct and specific effect on the tendency to imitate behavior without intention or conscious awareness. © 2010 Elsevier Inc.