Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7ccbd9845f-w45k2 Total loading time: 1.05 Render date: 2023-02-01T06:55:55.781Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

9 - Neurocognitive Explorations of Social Mimicry

from Part II - Imitation and Mimicry

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 October 2016

Sukhvinder S. Obhi
McMaster University, Ontario
Emily S. Cross
Bangor University
Get access



Social mimicry is the ubiquitous tendency to copy the bodily movements, expressions, postures and speech patterns of an interaction partner. Since the 1990s social psychologists have studied this phenomenon intensively and have revealed many interesting findings about the factors that moderate mimicry and its consequences. Recently, social cognitive neuroscientists have also begun to study mimicry, with an emphasis on uncovering its mechanistic underpinnings. In particular, mechanisms that have been studied in tasks such as action observation and automatic imitation have been assumed to play a role in social mimicry. Although intuitive, the notion that these mechanisms are common to both tightly controlled laboratory tasks and more naturalistic social mimicry is an assumption that requires empirical investigation. Here, I present recent work that begins to provide this missing empirical link. I contextualize this work with respect to both the social psychology and the cognitive neuroscience literatures.

Shared Representations
Sensorimotor Foundations of Social Life
, pp. 171 - 192
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Ashton-James, C., & Chartrand, T. L. (2009). Social cues for creativity: The impact of behavioral mimicry on convergent and divergent thinking. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(4), 10361040.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baaren, R. B. van, Fockenberg, D. A., Holland, R. W., Janssen, L., & van Knippenberg, A. (2006). The moody chameleon: The effect of mood on non-conscious mimicry. Social Cognition, 24(4), 426437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baaren, R. B. van, Maddux, W. W., Chartrand, T. L., de Bouter, C., & van Knippenberg, A. (2003). It takes two to mimic: Behavioral consequences of self-construals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(5), 10931102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bourgeois, P., & Hess, U. (2008). The impact of social context on mimicry. Biological Psychology, 77(3), 343352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brass, M., Bekkering, H., & Prinz, W. (2001). Movement observation affects movement execution in a simple response task. Acta Psychologica, 106(1–2), 322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brass, M., Ruby, P., & Spengler, S. (2009). Inhibition of imitative behaviour and social cognition. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1528), 23592367.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Buccino, G., Baumgaertner, A., Colle, L., Buechel, C., Rizzolatti, G., & Binkofski, F. (2007). The neural basis for understanding non-intended actions. NeuroImage, 36(Suppl. 2), T119T127.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Buccino, G., Binkofski, F., Fink, G. R., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., et al. (2001). Action observation activates premotor and parietal areas in a somatotopic manner: An fMRI study. European Journal of Neuroscience, 13(2), 400404.Google Scholar
Buccino, G., Binkofski, F., & Riggio, L. (2004). The mirror neuron system and action recognition. Brain and Language, 89(2), 370376.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Calvo-Merino, B., Glaser, D. E., Grèzes, J., Passingham, R. E., & Haggard, P. (2005). Action observation and acquired motor skills: an FMRI study with expert dancers. Cerebral Cortex, 15(8), 12431249.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Catmur, C., & Heyes, C. (2013). Is it what you do, or when you do it? The roles of contingency and similarity in pro-social effects of imitation. Cognitive Science, 37(8), 15411552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Catmur, C., Walsh, V., & Heyes, C. (2009). Associative sequence learning: The role of experience in the development of imitation and the mirror system. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1528), 23692380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (1999). The chameleon effect: The perception–behavior link and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(6), 893910.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Chartrand, T. L., & Lakin, J. L. (2013). The antecedents and consequences of human behavioral mimicry. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 285308.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Chartrand, T. L., & Van Baaren, R. (2009). Human mimicry. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 219–274.
Cheng, C. M., & Chartrand, T. L. (2003). Self-monitoring without awareness: Using mimicry as a nonconscious affiliation strategy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(6), 11701179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cisek, P. (2007). Cortical mechanisms of action selection: The affordance competition hypothesis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 362(1485), 15851599.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cook, J., & Bird, G. (2011). Social attitudes differentially modulate imitation in adolescents and adults. Experimental Brain Research, 211(3–4), 601612.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cook, R., Bird, G., Catmur, C., Press, C., & Heyes, C. (2014). Mirror neurons: From origin to function. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(2), 177192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cross, E. S., Hamilton, A. F., Kraemer, D. J., Kelley, W. M., & Grafton, S. T. (2009a). Dissociable substrates for body motion and physical experience in the human action observation network. European Journal of Neuroscience, 30(7), 13831392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cross, E. S., Kraemer, D. J., Hamilton, A. F., Kelley, W. M., & Grafton, S. T. (2009b). Sensitivity of the action observation network to physical and observational learning. Cerebral Cortex, 19(2), 315326.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Dalton, A. N., Chartrand, T. L., & Finkel, E. J. (2010). The schema-driven chameleon: How mimicry affects executive and self-regulatory resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(4), 605617.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13(1), 8184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fadiga, L., Craighero, L., & Olivier, E. (2005). Human motor cortex excitability during the perception of others’ action. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 15(2), 213218.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., Pavesi, G., & Rizzolatti, G. (1995). Motor facilitation during action observation: A magnetic stimulation study. Journal of Neurophysiology, 73(6), 26082611.Google ScholarPubMed
Fourkas, A. D., Avenanti, A., Urgesi, C., & Aglioti, S. M. (2006). Corticospinal facilitation during first and third person imagery. Experimental Brain Research, 168(1–2), 143151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Frith, C. D., & Frith, U. (2006). The neural basis of mentalizing. Neuron, 50(4), 531534.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Greenwald, A. G. (1970). Sensory feedback mechanisms in performance control: With special reference to the ideo-motor mechanism. Psychological Review, 77(2), 7399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Guéguen, N., & Martin, A. (2009). Incidental similarity facilitates behavioral mimicry. Social Psychology, 40(2), 8892.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Guéguen, N., Martin, A., Meineri, S., & Simon, J. (2013). Using mimicry to elicit answers to intimate questions in survey research. Field Methods, 25(1), 4757.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hallett, M. (2007). Transcranial magnetic stimulation: A primer. Neuron, 55(2), 187199.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Heiser, M., Iacoboni, M., Maeda, F., Marcus, J., & Mazziotta, J. C. (2003). The essential role of Broca’s area in imitation. European Journal of Neuroscience, 17(5), 11231128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Herwig, A., Prinz, W., & Waszak, F. (2007). Two modes of sensorimotor integration in intention-based and stimulus-based actions. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60(11), 15401554.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Heyes, C. (2011). Automatic imitation. Psychological Bulletin, 137(3), 463483.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hogeveen, J., Chartrand, T. L., & Obhi, S. S. (2014a). Social mimicry enhances mu-suppression during action observation. Cerebral Cortex. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhu016.
Hogeveen, J., Inzlicht, M., & Obhi, S. S. (2013). Power changes how the brain responds to others. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2, 755762.Google Scholar
Hogeveen, J., Inzlicht, M., (2014b). Power changes how the brain responds to others. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(2), 755762.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hogeveen, J., & Obhi, S. S. (2012). Social interaction enhances motor resonance for observed human actions. Journal of Neuroscience, 32 (17), 59845989.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hogeveen, J., Obhi, S. S., Banissy, M. J., et al. (2014c). Task-dependent and distinct roles of the temporoparietal junction and inferior frontal cortex in the control of imitation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10(7), 1003–1009.Google Scholar
Honk, J. van, Schutter, D. J., D’alfonso, A. A., Kessels, R. P., & de Haan, E. H. (2002). 1 hz rTMS over the right prefrontal cortex reduces vigilant attention to unmasked but not to masked fearful faces. Biological Psychiatry, 52(4), 312317.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Iacoboni, M. (2008). Mirroring people. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.Google Scholar
Iacoboni, M. (2009). Neurobiology of imitation. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 19(6), 661665.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Iacoboni, M., & Mazziotta, J. C. (2007). Mirror neuron system: Basic findings and clinical applications. Annals of Neurology, 62(3), 213218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Iacoboni, M., Woods, R. P., Brass, M., Bekkering, H., Mazziotta, J. C., & Rizzolatti, G. (1999a). Cortical mechanisms of human imitation. Science, 5449, 25262528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Iacoboni, M., Woods, R. P., Brass, M., Bekkering, H., Mazziotta, J. C., (1999b). Cortical mechanisms of human imitation. Science, 5449, 25262528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Inzlicht, M., Gutsell, J. N., & Legault, L. (2012). Mimicry reduces racial prejudice. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(1), 361365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
James, W. (1890). The principles of psychology. New York: Holt.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kaplan, J. T., & Iacoboni, M. (2006). Getting a grip on other minds: Mirror neurons, intention understanding, and cognitive empathy. Society of Neuroscience, 1(3–4), 175183.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Knoblich, G., & Sebanz, N. (2006). The social nature of perception and action. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(3), 99104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Knuf, L., Aschersleben, G., & Prinz, W. (2001). An analysis of ideomotor action. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 130, 779798.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kouzakova, M., van Baaren, R., & van Knippenberg, A. (2010). Lack of behavioral imitation in human interactions enhances salivary cortisol levels. Hormones and Behavior, 57(4–5), 421426.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kühn, S., Müller, B. C., van Baaren, R. B., Wietzker, A., Dijksterhuis, A., & Brass, M. (2010). Why do I like you when you behave like me? Neural mechanisms mediating positive consequences of observing someone being imitated. Society of Neuroscience, 5(4), 384392.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lakin, J. L., & Chartrand, T. L. (2003). Using nonconscious behavioral mimicry to create affiliation and rapport. Psychological Science, 14(4), 334339.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lakin, J. L., Chartrand, T. L., & Arkin, R. M. (2008). I am too just like you: Nonconscious mimicry as an automatic behavioral response to social exclusion. Psychological Science, 19(8), 816822.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Leighton, J., & Heyes, C. (2010). Hand to mouth: Automatic imitation across effector systems. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 36(5), 1174–183.Google ScholarPubMed
Losin, E. A., Cross, K. A., Iacoboni, M., & Dapretto, M. (2014). Neural processing of race during imitation: Self-similarity versus social status. Human Brain Mapping, 35(4), 17231739.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Losin, E. A., Iacoboni, M., Martin, A., Cross, K. A., & Dapretto, M. (2012). Race modulates neural activity during imitation. NeuroImage, 59(4), 35943603.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Magistris, M. R., Rösler, K. M., Truffert, A., & Myers, J. P. (1998). Transcranial stimulation excites virtually all motor neurons supplying the target muscle: A demonstration and a method improving the study of motor-evoked potentials. Brain, 121, 437450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Massey, D. S. (2002). A brief history of human society: The origin and role of emotion in social life. American Sociological Review, 67(1), 129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McIntosh, D. N. (2006). Spontaneous facial mimicry, liking and emotional contagion. Polish Psychological Bulletin, 37(1), 3142.Google Scholar
Naish, K. R., Houston-Price, C., Bremner, A. J., & Holmes, N. P. (2014). Effects of action observation on corticospinal excitability: Muscle specificity, direction, and timing of the mirror response. Neuropsychologia, 64C, 331348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Oberman, L. M., Ramachandran, V. S., & Pineda, J. A. (2008). Modulation of mu suppression in children with autism spectrum disorders in response to familiar or unfamiliar stimuli: The mirror neuron hypothesis. Neuropsychologia, 46(5), 15581565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Obhi, S. S., Haggard, P., Taylor, J., & Pascual-Leone, A. (2002). rTMS to the supplementary motor area disrupts bimanual coordination. Motor Control, 6(4), 319332.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Obhi, S. S., Hogeveen, J., Giacomin, M., & Jordan, C. H. (2014). Automatic imitation is reduced in narcissists. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 40(3), 920928.Google Scholar
Obhi, S. S., Hogeveen, J., & Pascual-Leone, A. (2011). Resonating with others: The effects of self-construal type on motor cortical output. Journal of Neuroscience, 31(41), 1453114535.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pineda, J. A. (2005) The functional significance of mu rhythms: Translating ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ into ‘doing’. Brain Research Reviews, 50(1), 5768.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Press, C., Gillmeister, H., & Heyes, C. (2007). Sensorimotor experience enhances automatic imitation of robotic action. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 274(1625), 25092514.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Prinz, W. (2005). An ideomotor approach to imitation. In Hurley, S., & Chater, N. (Eds.), Perspectives on imitation: From neuroscience to social science (Vol. 1). Cambridge, MA, US: MIT Press, 141156.Google Scholar
Qin, P., & Northoff, G. (2011). How is our self related to midline regions and the default-mode network? NeuroImage, 57(3), 12211233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Redeker, M., Stel, M., & Mastop, J. (2011). Does mimicking others change your self-view? Journal of Social Psychology, 151(4), 387390.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rizzolatti, G., Fadiga, L., Gallese, V., & Fogassi, L. (1996). Premotor cortex and the recognition of motor actions. Cognitive Brain Research, 3(2), 131141.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Santiesteban, I., Banissy, M. J., Catmur, C., & Bird, G. (2012). Enhancing social ability by stimulating right temporoparietal junction. Current Biology, 22(23), 22742277.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Sartori, L., Betti, S., & Castiello, U. (2013). Corticospinal excitability modulation during action observation. Journal of Visualized Experiments, (82). doi: 10.3791/51001.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Sparenberg, P., Topolinski, S., Springer, A., & Prinz, W. (2012). Minimal mimicry: Mere effector matching induces preference. Brain and Cognition, 80(3), 291300.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Spengler, S., von Cramon, D. Y., & Brass, M. (2009). Control of shared representations relies on key processes involved in mental state attribution. Human Brain Mapping, 30(11), 37043718.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Stel, M., & Harinck, F. (2011). Being mimicked makes you a prosocial voter. Experimental Psychology, 1, 7984.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stel, M., van den Bos, K., Sim, S., & Rispens, S. (2013). Mimicry and just world beliefs: Mimicking makes men view the world as more personally just. British Journal of Social Psychology, 52(3), 397411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ulzen, N. R. van, Fiorio, M., & Cesari, P. (2013). Motor resonance evoked by observation of subtle nonverbal behavior. Society of Neuroscience, 8(4), 347355.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Van Swol, L. M., & Drury, M. (2006). The effects of shared opinions on nonverbal mimicry. Paper presented at Annual International Communication Association Conference, Dresden, Germany.
Wang, Y., & Hamilton, A. F. (2012). Social top-down response modulation (STORM): A model of the control of mimicry in social interaction. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wang, Y., Newport, R., & Hamilton, A. F. (2011). Eye contact enhances mimicry of intransitive hand movements. Biology Letters, 7(1), 710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wolpert, D. M., & Flanagan, J. R. (2001). Motor prediction. Current Biology, 11(18), R729R732.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yabar, Y., Johnston, L., Miles, L., & Peace, V. (2006). Implicit behavioral mimicry: Investigating the impact of group membership. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 30(3), 97113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Young, J. J., & Shapiro, M. L. (2011). The orbitofrontal cortex and response selection. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1239, 2532.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cited by

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats