L. Braadbaart, G. D. Waiter, J. H. Williams


1662-5145 (Electronic)1662-5145 (Linking)

Publication year



Front Integr Neurosci

Periodical Number





Author Address

School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen Aberdeen, UK.

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Imitation is crucial for social learning, and so it is important to identify what determines between-subject variability in imitation fidelity. This might help explain what makes some people, like those with social difficulties such as in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), significantly worse at performance on these tasks than others. A novel paradigm was developed to provide objective measures of imitation fidelity in which participants used a touchscreen to imitate videos of a model drawing different shapes. Comparisons between model and participants’ kinematic data provided three measures of imitative fidelity. We hypothesized that imitative ability would predict variation in BOLD signal whilst performing a simple imitation task in the MRI-scanner. In particular, an overall measure of accuracy (correlation between model and imitator) would predict activity in the overarching imitation system, whereas bias would be subject to more general aspects of motor control. Participants lying in the MRI-scanner were instructed to imitate different grips on a handle, or to watch someone or a circle moving the handle. Our hypothesis was partly confirmed as correlation between model and imitator was mediated by somatosensory cortex but also ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and bias was mediated mainly by cerebellum but also by the medial frontal and parietal cortices and insula. We suggest that this variance differentially reflects cognitive functions such as feedback-sensitivity and reward-dependent learning, contributing significantly to variability in individuals’ imitative abilities as characterized by objective kinematic measures.