Tim W. Faber: "When Imitation Falls Short: The Case of Complementary Actions."

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Tim W. Faber: "When Imitation Falls Short: The Case of Complementary Actions."

On January 25, 2017 Tim W. Faber successfully defended the PhD thesis entitled "When Imitation Falls Short: The Case of Complementary Actions." at Aula, University of Amsterdam.

Prof. Dr. Agneta Fischer

Dr. Kai Jonas


Imitation is seen by many researchers as the driving force of human evolution and as a primary factor controlling the development of culture (Legare & Nielsen, 2015). The ontogeny of imitative behavior has been heavenly debated and has inspired a host of theoretical accounts. While an inborn mechanism that translates observed in performed behavior is losing evidential support, a more flexible associative learning mechanism has been proposed that not only explains imitation but also more complex (non-similar) types of behavior such as complementary actions. Complementary actions can be defined as behavioral responses towards an observed action (shaking hands or catching a ball) that can be dissimilar to the observed action. In my thesis I try to find evidence for principles of associative learning specifically applied to complementary actions. I found that complementary actions direct attention to response-relevant objects, that complementary actions are activated irrespective of perceived personal space and that complementary actions modulate perspective taking. Also, I have found that (neural) motor regions are inherently predictive which might facilitate the preparation of complementary actions. The results partly support the associative learning view and provide novel questions for the literature discussing the limits on imitation behavior. We suggest that while imitation is abundant, it is one of outcomes of associative learning and does not inherently provide the positive characteristics that many have attributed it to.

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