Imitation and body representation

Document Type: 
ASSC Conference Item
Article Type: 
imitation, body representation, correspondence problem, autotopagnosia, asomatognosia, philosophy
Deposited by: 
Dr Roblin Meeks
Date of Issue: 
Roblin Meeks
Event Dates: 
23-26 June 2006
Event Location: 
Oxford, England
Event Title: 
10th annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness
Event Type: 
ASSC Conference
Presentation Type: 
Number of Pages: 
Alternative URL:
Publish status: 
The prevalence and ease of imitation has long proved puzzling. Imitating another's behavior requires that one coordinate one's own muscle activity with the observed actions of another, yet how does one's motor system accomplish this amazing feat of coordination? Generalist theories of imitation have gained prominence in the literature, as evidence of a special-purpose mechanism dedicated to imitation has been lacking. Moreover, the discovery and study of mirror neurons has led many to conclude that imitation draws upon general motor control and learning systems, systems apparently automatically active both when observing and executing actions, and even when observing viscero-motor reactions such as disgust. Though much evidence suggests that observing actions trigger motor representations similar to those triggered in action execution, I argue that we nevertheless have reason to believe that body representations may be importantly specialized. Studies involving autotopagnosics, for example, suggest that double dissociations between the ability to point to one's own body parts and the body parts of others indicate an important self-other distinction in body representations. Hence, though I do not believe that such specialized systems are for imitation, they nevertheless suggest that imitation involves more than generalists tend to allow--namely 'subjectless' motor representations plus associative learning. They also involve coordinating to some degree internal representations of both one's own body and the bodies of others.
imitation.pdf1.83 MB