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Arch Ital Biol. 2014 Mar;152(1):20-31.

Anatomical or mirror mode imitation? A behavioral approach.

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Dipartimento di Medicina Sperimentale e Clinica, Sezione di Neuroscienze e Biologia cellulare, Università Politecnica delle Marche, via Tronto 10/A, 60020 Ancona, Italy - Tel.: +39 071 220 6193/6050 - Fax: +39 071 220 6052 - Email:


Imitation can occur in at least two forms: one, which can be defined as anatomical, is based primarily on the mental construct of the body schema and allows recognition of correspondences between own body anatomy and that of other individuals. The other form, defined as specular or mirror mode, is most probably based on the allocation of some form of attention to the same region of the environmental space both by model and imitator, and to the objects it contains. This study investigated the behavioral strategy of imitation in normal subjects, to assess whether they carried out task instructions using an anatomical or a mirror perspective. Twenty seven adults were asked to imitate intransitive meaningful and meaningless gestures shown by a model in video clips. Instructions about how to perform them were provided before each trial. Trials were free (intended to produce spontaneous imitation) or driven (intended to produce anatomical imitation); further driven trials were administered to verify participants' knowledge of bodily laterality and were used as control. Performances were interpreted as anatomical or mirror imitation, according to the observation of anatomical or spatial reference frames between stimulus and imitator. The results revealed that in spontaneous imitation the mirror mode was more frequent (61% of responses), in line with previous studies. The novel finding was the prevalence (93% of responses) of anatomical imitation in tasks involving detailed driven instructions.

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