Imitating other people can be important for social interaction, but we have to get the balance right: too much imitation can lead people to feel uncomfortable. Previous brain imaging studies have suggested that there may be specific brain areas involved in controlling the tendency to imitate. Now researchers in the School of Psychology have demonstrated that one of these brain areas, the temporoparietal junction, is causally linked to the ability to control imitation. Using transcranial magnetic stimulation, which temporarily disrupts the activity in a small area of the brain, Sophie Sowden and Caroline Catmur showed that this brain area controls our ability to imitate. When they stimulated the temporoparietal junction, participants showed greater imitation of finger movements displayed on a computer screen, indicating that they were less able to control the tendency to imitate these movements. This was not the case when another area of the brain was stimulated, demonstrating that the effect is specific to the temporoparietal junction. This finding contributes to our understanding of the brain areas involved in social interaction.
This research was carried out as part of Sophie Sowden’s undergraduate research project, supervised by Dr Caroline Catmur. Dr Catmur’s research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Royal Society.
Reference: Sowden, S. & Catmur, C. (in press). The role of the right temporoparietal junction in the control of imitation. Cerebral Cortex. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bht306
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