The controlled imitation task: a new paradigm for studying self-other control
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In the automatic imitation task (AIT) participants make a cued response during simultaneous exposure to a congruent or incongruent action made by another agent. Participants are slower to make the cued response on incongruent trials, which is thought to reflect conflict between the motor representation activated by the cue and the motor representation activated by the observed action. On incongruent trials, good performance requires the capacity to suppress the imitative action, in favor of producing the cued response. Here, we introduce a new experimental paradigm that complements the AIT, and is therefore a useful task for studying the control of self and other activated representations. In what we term the "Controlled Imitation Task (CIT)", participants are cued to make an action, but on 50% of trials, within 100 ms of this cue, an on-screen hand makes a congruent or incongruent action. If the onscreen hand moves, the participant must suppress the cued response, and instead imitate the observed action as quickly and accurately as possible. In direct contrast to the AIT, the CIT requires suppression of a self-activated motor representation, and prioritization of an imitative response. In experiment 1, we report a robust pattern of interference effects in the CIT, such that participants are slower to make the imitative response on incongruent compared to congruent trials. In experiment 2, we replicate this effect while including a non-imitative spatial-cue control condition to show that the effect is particularly robust for imitative response tendencies per se. Owing to the essentially opposite control requirements of the CIT versus the AIT (i.e., suppression of self-activated motor representations instead of suppression of other-activated motor representations), we propose that this new task is a potentially informative complementary paradigm to the AIT that can be used in studies of self-other control processes.
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