Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 218, Issue 6, pp 1419–1427 | Cite as

Imitation and speech: commonalities within Broca’s area

Original Article


The so-called embodiment of communication has attracted considerable interest. Recently a growing number of studies have proposed a link between Broca’s area’s involvement in action processing and its involvement in speech. The present quantitative meta-analysis set out to test whether neuroimaging studies on imitation and overt speech show overlap within inferior frontal gyrus. By means of activation likelihood estimation (ALE), we investigated concurrence of brain regions activated by object-free hand imitation studies as well as overt speech studies including simple syllable and more complex word production. We found direct overlap between imitation and speech in bilateral pars opercularis (BA 44) within Broca’s area. Subtraction analyses revealed no unique localization neither for speech nor for imitation. To verify the potential of ALE subtraction analysis to detect unique involvement within Broca’s area, we contrasted the results of a meta-analysis on motor inhibition and imitation and found separable regions involved for imitation. This is the first meta-analysis to compare the neural correlates of imitation and overt speech. The results are in line with the proposed evolutionary roots of speech in imitation.


Imitation Speech Broca’s area Inferior frontal gyrus Activation likelihood estimation Meta-analysis Gesture 



SK is a Postdoctoral Fellow of the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO). The work was supported in part by the BMBF 01GS08159.

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

429_2012_467_MOESM1_ESM.doc (66 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 65 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simone Kühn
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Marcel Brass
    • 1
  • Jürgen Gallinat
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Experimental Psychology and Ghent Institute for Functional and Metabolic Imaging, Faculty of Psychology and Educational SciencesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Charité University Medicine, St. Hedwig Krankenhaus, Clinic for Psychiatry and PsychotherapyBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Max Planck Institute for Human DevelopmentBerlinGermany

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