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Schizophr Bull. 2019 Jan 1;45(1):87-95. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sby006.

Enhanced Automatic Action Imitation and Intact Imitation-Inhibition in Schizophrenia.

Author information

Psychosis Research Unit, Aarhus University Hospital, Risskov, Denmark.
The Lundbeck Foundation Initiative for Integrative Psychiatric Research, iPSYCH, Aarhus, Denmark.
The Interacting Minds Centre, School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.
Department of Clinical Medicine, Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, Aarhus, Denmark.
The Psychiatric Centre, Landssjúkrahúsið, National Hospital of the Faroe Islands, Tórshavn, Faroe Islands.
Ílegusavnið, The Genetic Biobank of the Faroe Islands, Tórshavn, Faroe Islands.
School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK.


Imitation plays a key role in social learning and in facilitating social interactions and likely constitutes a basic building block of social cognition that supports higher-level social abilities. Recent findings suggest that patients with schizophrenia have imitation impairments that could contribute to the social impairments associated with the disorder. However, extant studies have specifically assessed voluntary imitation or automatic imitation of emotional stimuli without controlling for potential confounders. The imitation impairments seen might therefore be secondary to other cognitive, motoric, or emotional deficits associated with the disorder. To overcome this issue, we used an automatic imitation paradigm with nonemotional stimuli to assess automatic imitation and the top-down modulation of imitation where participants were required to lift one of 2 fingers according to a number shown on the screen while observing the same or the other finger movement. In addition, we used a control task with a visual cue in place of a moving finger, to isolate the effect of observing finger movement from other visual cueing effects. Data from 33 patients (31 medicated) and 40 matched healthy controls were analyzed. Patients displayed enhanced imitation and intact top-down modulation of imitation. The enhanced imitation seen in patients may have been medication induced as larger effects were seen in patients receiving higher antipsychotic doses. In sum, we did not find an imitation impairment in schizophrenia. The results suggest that previous findings of impaired imitation in schizophrenia might have been due to other cognitive, motoric, and/or emotional deficits.

[Available on 2020-01-01]

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