Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MSc)



Program Name/Specialization

Cognitive Neuroscience


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Automatic imitation (AI) refers to the subconscious tendency we have to imitate an observed action, even when that action is irrelevant to or interferes with an action we are attempting to execute (Heyes, 2011; Brass et al., 2000). Human beings display a fundamental need to stay meaningfully connected to others, also known as the need to belong. Previous research shows that an experience of rejection can reduce one’s feelings of connectedness to others (Legate et al., 2013), and that behaviours such as non-conscious mimicry (NCM) increase after being excluded as a possible means of re-affiliation (Lakin et al., 2008). It may follow that exclusion can also interfere with our automatic imitation of actions of another person. In Experiment 1, we primed participants to either recall an event where they excluded other(s), were excluded by other(s), or recall the previous day’s activities. After priming, participants completed an assessment of their feelings of connectedness and then engaged in the controlled imitation task (CIT; Obhi & Hogeveen, 2013). In the CIT, participants observed on-screen movements of index and middle finger ‘lifts’. Half of the presentations were biological (finger lift trials) and half were spatial control stimuli (dot simulating lift trials). Participants responded to numeric cues of ‘1’ or ‘2’ for an index or middle lift, respectively. Movements were either congruent (e.g. cue ‘1’, lift ‘1’) or incongruent to (e.g. cue ‘1’, lift ‘2’) the movement the participant was instructed to perform. During incongruent trials (e.g. cue ‘1’, observe ‘2’), participants were to cancel their cued response in favour of producing the observed movement. This was followed with the completion of a rating indicating their need to belong. Results showed that when an observed action was incongruent with the cued response, reaction time (RT) was slowed and accuracy was reduced, but there was no significant impact of prime task upon imitation effect. In Experiment 2, the same social exclusion priming procedure was used, but participants completed the automatic imitation task (AIT). In the AIT, participants responded to numeric cues of ‘1’ and ‘2’ during both congruent and incongruent trials, and were instructed not to respond to the observed movements. The results from experiment 2 differed in that the slowing in RT and reduction in accuracy was only significant for finger trials, as well as a larger interference effect for finger trials than dots. As in Experiment 1, no significant impact of the prime was found on imitation. In both experiments, all participants rated their essay-writing experience as effective, yet no significant differences were found across prime groups in their connectedness scores or their need to belong rating. Overall, our findings suggest that writing about recalled experiences of social exclusion may not be enough to elicit significant changes in automatic imitative behaviours. Variations in methodological techniques may further elucidate the possible relationship between exclusion and imitation.

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