Humans sometimes perform actions which, at least superficially, appear suboptimal to the goal they are trying to achieve. Despite being able to identify these irrational actions from an early age, humans display a curious tendency to copy them. The current study recorded participants’ movements during an established imitation task and manipulated the rationality of the observed action in two ways. Participants observed videos of a model point to a series of targets with either a low, high or ‘superhigh’ trajectory either in the presence or absence of obstacles between her targets. The participants’ task was to watch which targets the model pointed to and then point to the same targets on the table in front of them. There were no obstacles between the participants’ targets. Firstly, we found that the peak height of participants’ movements between their targets was sensitive to the height of the model’s movements, even in the ‘superhigh’ condition where the model’s action was rated as irrational. Secondly, participants showed obstacle priming—the peak height of participants’ movements was higher after having observed the model move over obstacles to reach her targets, compared to when there were no obstacles between her targets. This suggests that participants code the environment of co-actors into their own motor programs, even when this compromises the efficiency of their own movements. We discuss the implications of our findings in terms of theories of imitation and obstacle priming.
Experimental Brain Research – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 17, 2017
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