Stimulus-driven selection of routes to imitation

  • Clare Press
  • Cecilia Heyes
Research Note


Several models have proposed that an action can be imitated via one of two routes: a direct visuospatial route, which can in principle mediate imitation of both meaningful (MF) and meaningless (ML) actions, and an indirect semantic route, which can be used only for MF actions. The present study investigated whether selection between the direct and indirect routes is strategic or stimulus driven. Tessari and Rumiati (J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 30:1107–1116, 2004) have previously shown, using accuracy measures, that imitation of MF actions is superior to imitation of ML actions when the two action types are presented in separate blocks, and that the advantage of MF over ML items is smaller or absent when they are presented in mixed blocks. We first replicated this finding using an automated reaction time (RT), as well as accuracy, measure. We then examined imitation of MF and ML actions in the mixed condition as a function of the action type presented in the previous trial and in relation to the number of previous test trials. These analyses showed that (1) for both action types, performance was worse immediately after ML than MF trials, and (2) even at the beginning of the mixed condition, responding to MF actions was no better than responding to ML items. These results suggest that the properties of the action stimulus play a substantial role in determining whether imitation is mediated by the direct or the indirect route, and that effects of block composition on imitation need not be generated through strategic switching between routes.


Imitation Semantics Working memory Two-route model Associative sequence learning 



This research was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) research centre for Economic Learning and Social Evolution. We are grateful to Geoffrey Bird for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, to Richard Cook for scoring the videos, to Caitlin Orsini for help with piloting, and to Alessia Tessari and Raffaella Rumiati for allowing us to use their stimulus set, and for their advice and encouragement.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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