Psychological Research

, Volume 80, Issue 4, pp 487–495 | Cite as

Top-down social modulation of interpersonal observation–execution

  • James W. RobertsEmail author
  • Simon J. Bennett
  • Spencer J. Hayes
Original Article


Cyclical upper limb movement can involuntarily deviate from its primary movement axis when the performer concurrently observes incongruent biological motion (i.e. interpersonal observation–execution). The current study examined the social modulation of such involuntary motor interference using a protocol that reflected everyday social interactions encountered in a naturalistic social setting. Eighteen participants executed cyclical horizontal arm movements during the observation of horizontal (congruent) or curvilinear (incongruent) biological motion. Both prior to, and during the interpersonal observation–execution task, participants also received a series of social words designed to prime a pro-social or anti-social attitude. The results showed greater orthogonal movement deviation, and thus interference, for the curvilinear compared to horizontal stimuli. Importantly, and opposite to most of the previous findings from work on automatic imitation and mimicry, there was a greater interference effect for the anti-social compared to pro-social prime condition. These findings demonstrate the importance of interpreting the context of social primes, and strongly support predictions of a comparison between the prime construct and the self-concept/-schema and the top-down response modulation of social incentives.


Movement Trajectory Biological Motion Superior Temporal Sulcus Motor Contagion Movement Deviation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank David Broadbent and Chris Dutoy for their help in designing the model stimuli.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • James W. Roberts
    • 1
    Email author
  • Simon J. Bennett
    • 1
  • Spencer J. Hayes
    • 1
  1. 1.Brain and Behaviour Laboratory, Faculty of ScienceLiverpool John Moores UniversityLiverpoolUK

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