Self-other control processes in social cognition: from imitation to empathy.
de Guzman M., Bird G., Banissy MJ., Catmur C.
We review the evidence that an ability to achieve a precise balance between representing the self and representing other people is crucial in social interaction. This ability is required for imitation, perspective-taking, theory of mind and empathy; and disruption to this ability may contribute to the symptoms of clinical and sub-clinical conditions, including autism spectrum disorder and mirror-touch synaesthesia. Moving beyond correlational approaches, a recent intervention study demonstrated that training participants to control representations of the self and others improves their ability to control imitative behaviour, and to take another's visual perspective. However, it is unclear whether these effects apply to other areas of social interaction, such as the ability to empathize with others. We report original data showing that participants trained to increase self-other control in the motor domain demonstrated increased empathic corticospinal responses (Experiment 1) and self-reported empathy (Experiment 2), as well as an increased ability to control imitation. These results suggest that the ability to control self and other representations contributes to empathy as well as to other types of social interaction.