Robotic movement elicits automatic imitation.
Press C., Bird G., Flach R., Heyes C.
Recent behavioural and neuroimaging studies have found that observation of human movement, but not of robotic movement, gives rise to visuomotor priming. This implies that the 'mirror neuron' or 'action observation-execution matching' system in the premotor and parietal cortices is entirely unresponsive to robotic movement. The present study investigated this hypothesis using an 'automatic imitation' stimulus-response compatibility procedure. Participants were required to perform a prespecified movement (e.g. opening their hand) on presentation of a human or robotic hand in the terminal posture of a compatible movement (opened) or an incompatible movement (closed). Both the human and the robotic stimuli elicited automatic imitation; the prespecified action was initiated faster when it was cued by the compatible movement stimulus than when it was cued by the incompatible movement stimulus. However, even when the human and robotic stimuli were of comparable size, colour and brightness, the human hand had a stronger effect on performance. These results suggest that effector shape is sufficient to allow the action observation-matching system to distinguish human from robotic movement. They also indicate, as one would expect if this system develops through learning, that to varying degrees both human and robotic action can be 'simulated' by the premotor and parietal cortices.