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Imitation occurs when we copy other people and can happen intentionally (e.g. when you are learning a new skill) or unintentionally (e.g. unconsciously imitating a person you like). It plays an important role in learning new skills as well as socially bonding with other people. In our research we are interested in how imitation is affected by different stimuli as well as attention and motivation. We have shown that we are more likely to replicate an action precisely if the goal of the action is unknown. For example, if asked to imitate someone picking up a cup versus an aimless action you are more likely to imitate the precise speed and size of the latter movement. Here attention is shifted to the means rather than the end points of the action.

We have also shown that unintentional imitation is affected by attention and whether the imitated action is produced by a person or non-human stimulus such as a moving shape. Here imitation is reduced for the non-human stimulus, particularly if your attention is drawn to the non-human nature of the stimulus. These results show us how imitation depends on stimulus appearance and prior knowledge, highlighting the dynamic and sensitive nature of imitation when interacting with other people.

Specific projects

Imitation and Parkinson's Disease

Example Publications

Bek, J, Poliakoff, E, Marshall, H, Trueman, S and Gowen, E (2016). Enhancing voluntary imitation through attention and motor imagery. Experimental Brain Research. 234(7):1819-28

Gowen E, Bolton E, Poliakoff E. Believe it or not: Moving non-biological stimuli believed to have human origin can be represented as human movement. Cognition. 146:431-8

Gowen E, Poliakoff E (2012) How does visuomotor priming differ for biological and non-biological stimuli? A review of the evidence. Psychol Res, 76(4):407-20

Wild. K, Poliakoff. E, Jerrison. A and Gowen. E (2010) The influence of goals on movement kinematics during imitation. Exp Brain research. 204 (3) 353-360