In recent years, research on imitation focused on investigating the underlying neural mechanisms; to this aim simple paradigms were developed to experimentally investigate the phenomenon. Following the natural tendency of humans to mimic gestures and postures of their conspecifics, paradigms of automatic imitation are nowadays widely used in the field. The main aim of my dissertation is to investigate how imitation occurs using an automatic imitation paradigm, in particular focusing on the matching processes that are required to map model and performers actions.The dissertation contains six chapters. In chapter 1, I will provide a brief background of the current theoretical accounts of imitation and of the concepts of automatic imitation and compatibility effects. I will particularly focus on the questions concerning automatic imitation that are still to be fully addressed, particularly those related to the distinction of imitative and spatial compatibility. I will also address the neuroimaging and neuropsychological literature on the neural correlates of imitation. In chapter 2, I will present a neuroimaging study I carried out to investigate the imitation components. Throughout all the studies of this thesis, we used a simple automatic imitation paradigm that is suitable to differentiate between the spatial compatibility and the imitative compatibility, due to the anatomical correspondence between model and performer. Results of the first study showed that the parietal opercula are active anytime the anatomical correspondence between model and performer is present. Hence, in chapter 3 I will present a study in which double-pulse TMS was used to investigate the role of the parietal opercula in automatic imitation, and in particular in coding the imitative compatibility. Results showed that when the activity in the parietal opercula is interfered by TMS, the imitative compatibility effect disappears. In the second part of my thesis I have investigated the factors that can interact with and modulate imitative behaviors. Chapter 4 contains an fMRI study in which the role of the model in imitation is investigated. Using a simplified version of the automatic imitation paradigm, I found that the fronto-parietal network, usually associated to imitation, is more active when participants perform actions that are compatible with those performed by a human model than by a non biological model. Moreover, in this study I have also investigated how different emotional contexts can influence the automatic tendency to imitate. The results showed that the activation of the fronto-parietal network is suppressed by emotional context, such as an angry face, that does not promote affiliative tendencies. In chapter 5 I will describe a neuropsychological study on brain damaged patients. Associations and dissociations between automatic imitation and action imitation were investigated, to analyze the differences between the two types of imitation. Moreover, the role of putative body representations in imitation and whether these body representations are needed for imitation has been investigated. Lastly, in chapter 6 I will wrap up the main results of my dissertation and I will argue that I was able to provide evidence that in automatic imitation an anatomical matching operates between the model and the performer, and that this is sustained by the parietal opercula. In addition I clarified the importance of the model, showing that the activity of fronto-parietal regions supporting imitative behaviors is modulated by model identity.
|Titolo:||A multimodal investigation of matching mechanisms in automatic imitation|
|Data di pubblicazione:||6-set-2012|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||8.1 PhD thesis|