The neural basis of the imitation drive

Sugiko Hanawa, Motoaki Sugiura, Takayuki Nozawa, Yuka Kotozaki, Yukihito Yomogida, Mizuki Ihara, Yoritaka Akimoto, Benjamin Thyreau, Shinichi Izumi, Ryuta Kawashima

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Spontaneous imitation is assumed to underlie the acquisition of important skills by infants, including language and social interaction. In this study, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to examine the neural basis of 'spontaneously' driven imitation, which has not yet been fully investigated. Healthy participants were presented with movie clips of meaningless bimanual actions and instructed to observe and imitate them during an fMRI scan. The participants were subsequently shown the movie clips again and asked to evaluate the strength of their 'urge to imitate' (Urge) for each action. We searched for cortical areas where the degree of activation positively correlated with Urge scores; significant positive correlations were observed in the right supplementary motor area (SMA) and bilateral midcingulate cortex (MCC) under the imitation condition. These areas were not explained by explicit reasons for imitation or the kinematic characteristics of the actions. Previous studies performed in monkeys and humans have implicated the SMA and MCC/caudal cingulate zone in voluntary actions. This study also confirmed the functional connectivity between Urge and imitation performance using a psychophysiological interaction analysis. Thus, our findings reveal the critical neural components that underlie spontaneous imitation and provide possible reasons why infants imitate spontaneously.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-77
Number of pages12
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Mar 25
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism
  • Imitation
  • Mirror neuron
  • Spontaneous
  • Urge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'The neural basis of the imitation drive'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this