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Title: Automatic and intentional imitation : experiments with typically developing adults and adults with autism spectrum disorders
Author: Leighton, J.
Awarding Body: University of London
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2007
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There are four main theories addressing the core mechanisms of imitation. Two of these theories suggest that imitation is mediated by a special-purpose mechanism and two suggest that it is mediated by general learning and motor control mechanisms. The main purpose of this thesis is to examine whether the question of how we imitate is best answered by specialist or generalist theories. In order to do this, experiments have been carried out using both intentional and automatic imitation paradigms. These paradigms have been used to examine imitation skills both in typically developing individuals and individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The first empirical chapter examines the role of goals in imitation. Specialist theories claim that goals play an integral role in explaining how we imitate. Some of the best evidence in support of this view is provided by error patterns generated in the pen-and- cups task. However, the results from variants of the pen-and-cups task, presented in this chapter, are more consistent with the idea that general processes, rather than goals, guide imitative behaviour. Chapters 3 and 4 examine imitative abilities in ASD using intentional and automatic imitation paradigms in order to ascertain whether there is an imitation specific impairment in ASD. Such an impairment would appear to be consistent with specialist theories of imitation. However, the findings from these chapters imply that the basic mechanism mediating imitation is not impaired in ASD, and that poor performance on complex intentional imitation tasks in ASD may be due to more generalised deficits, not specific to imitation. The final empirical chapter addresses effector specificity in imitation and whether this phenomenon can distinguish between specialist and generalist accounts of imitation. Using an automatic imitation paradigm, partial effector specificity is demonstrated, which is consistent with claims made by generalist theories. The first three empirical chapters therefore challenge some of the evidence that has been put forward to support specialist theories, and the final empirical chapter provides some specific support for generalist theories. Thus, the findings reported in this thesis are consistent with the hypothesis that imitation is mediated by general processes rather than by a special-purpose mechanism.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available