Automatic imitation is automatic, but less so for narcissists
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Imitation is a fundamentally important human capability and has been the topic of considerable research in the behavioural sciences. One paradigm for investigating the basic nature of imitation is the "automatic imitation" paradigm. In this paradigm, participants are symbolically cued to make a particular response, whilst being incidentally exposed to a congruent or incongruent motor action performed by another person. The robust finding is that when the incidental action is incongruent with the cued action, participants are slower to respond than when it is congruent. Despite the name given to this paradigm, the extent to which the imitative tendency involved is actually automatic remains unclear. Here, we manipulated the probability of congruent and incongruent trials within blocks to assess the effects of expectation on the imitative process. In addition, we determined whether an individual difference variable related to how people process others' behaviour-narcissism-affected the automaticity of imitation. Our results confirm that imitation as observed in this paradigm is robust in the face of expectation. However, the degree to which expectation modulates automatic imitation was enhanced for individuals who scored higher on a narcissism inventory. Together, these results suggest that imitation in the automatic imitation paradigm is indeed largely automatic, but that individual differences in narcissism can change the extent to which imitative behaviour manifests.
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