According to some theories imitation, defined as an action resonance mechanism, is deficient in autism. In contrast, other theories (e.g.; the "top down control of imitation" hypothesis) state that the problem is not in imitation per se but in the way social cues modulate imitative responses. In this study, 15 high-functioning children with autism and 15 matched controls were tested for their ability to imitate finger movements preceded by neutral and emotional facial expressions (primes) in a stimulus-response compatibility task. Hand movements performed after neutral expressions did not differ between the two groups (i.e.; they both showed a normal imitative tendency). However, hand movements performed after emotional expressions significantly differed between the two populations, with controls, but not autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), showing enhanced imitation in the emotional condition. This study supports the view that, in ASD, imitation abilities are spared but they are not modulated according to the emotional and social context.
- Action resonance
- Mirror neurons
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental and Educational Psychology