Executive functioning and imitation: Increasing working memory load facilitates behavioural imitation

Matthijs L. van Leeuwen, Rick B. van Baaren, Douglas Martin, Ap Dijksterhuis, Harold Bekkering

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


If perceptual and bodily states are closely linked and if perceiving action automatically leads to corresponding activations in one's own motor system, then why do not we imitate all the time? There is evidence suggesting that executive functioning (EF) may play a moderating role in inhibiting overt imitation [e.g. Luria, A. R. (1966). Higher cortical functions in man. New York: Basic Books]. In an experiment we tested this idea. 48 participants received either a high or low working memory (WM) load and were instructed to respond to either a finger cue or spatial cue with a finger movement. Results indicate that occupying WM facilitates reaction times to finger cues while responses to simple spatial cues are unchanged. The findings suggest that imitation is indeed a dominant response and EF is needed to inhibit the spontaneous tendency to imitate. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Article number-
Pages (from-to)3265-3270
Number of pages6
Issue number14
Early online date16 Jun 2009
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009


  • Inhibition
  • Perception-action
  • Mimicry
  • Motor control
  • Response Tendencies
  • Frontal lobes
  • Perception
  • Recognition
  • Movements
  • Perception–action


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