Cognitive mechanisms and social consequences of imitation
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Lelonkiewicz, Jarosław Roman
When interacting, people imitate each other. This tendency is truly ubiquitous and occurs in many different situations and behaviours. But what causes it? Several mechanisms have been proposed to contribute to imitation. In this thesis, I focus on three candidate mechanisms: simulation, temporal adaptation, and the goal to affiliate with others. I start by discussing different imitative behaviours, and reviewing the evidence that imitation might at times emerge spontaneously. I also review the evidence suggesting that the three candidate mechanisms might be involved in such emergent imitation. Then, I present three sets of experiments. In the first set, I investigate the role of simulation in language processing. In three experiments, I test the hypothesis that comprehenders use their language production system to simulate their interlocutor, which in turn facilitates their ability to predict the next word they will see or hear. I manipulate whether participants read the sentences silently or aloud and measure their ability to predict the final word of a sentence. My results demonstrate that prediction is enhanced when people use their production system during reading aloud. This gives some credence to the idea that simulation is routinely engaged in language processing, which in turn opens up a possibility that it may contribute to linguistic imitation. In the second set of experiments, I investigate whether temporal adaptation leads agents to imitate features of their partner’s actions. In three experiments, I test this by manipulating the partner’s response speed and the information about the partner’s actions. I show that agents imitate response speed when they are able to observe the partner. Moreover, they adapt to the specific temporal pattern of their partner’s actions. These findings provide evidence for the engagement of the temporal adaptation mechanism during motor interactions, and for its involvement in imitation. In the third set of experiments, I turn to the hypothesis that people engage in linguistic imitation because they want to harness the social benefits it brings. I investigate a key assumption of this hypothesis: that imitation has positive consequences for the social interaction. In three experiments, I manipulate whether participants’ word choice is imitated or counter-imitated by their conversational partner and measure how it affects the participants’ evaluation of the interaction and the partner, and their willingness to cooperate with the partner. I find evidence that linguistic imitation has positive social consequences. These results are consonant with the claim that imitation is motivated by the goal to affiliate and foster social relations. Taken together, these findings suggest that imitation might occur both in motor actions and language, and that it might have diverse causes. My work on language suggests that the tendency to linguistically imitate others could both result from the simulation mechanism, and be motivated by the goal to affiliate. My work on motor actions shows that automatic temporal adaptation contributes to emergent imitation during interactions. This research is conducive to the greater aim of cross-examining the currently known mechanisms of imitation.