Task-dependent and distinct roles of the temporoparietal junction and inferior frontal cortex in the control of imitation
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The control of neurological networks supporting social cognition is crucially important for social interaction. In particular, the control of imitation is directly linked to interaction quality, with impairments associated with disorders characterized by social difficulties. Previous work suggests inferior frontal cortex (IFC) and the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) are involved in controlling imitation, but the functional roles of these areas remain unclear. Here, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) was used to enhance cortical excitability at IFC and the TPJ prior to the completion of three tasks: (i) a naturalistic social interaction during which increased imitation is known to improve rapport, (ii) a choice reaction time task in which imitation needs to be inhibited for successful performance and (iii) a non-imitative control task. Relative to sham stimulation, stimulating IFC improved the context-dependent control of imitation-participants imitated more during the social interaction and less during the imitation inhibition task. In contrast, stimulating the TPJ reduced imitation in the inhibition task without affecting imitation during social interaction. Neither stimulation site affected the non-imitative control task. These data support a model in which IFC modulates imitation directly according to task demands, whereas TPJ controls task-appropriate shifts in attention toward representation of the self or the other, indirectly impacting upon imitation.
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