The Imitative Mind: Development, Evolution, and Brain Bases

The Imitative Mind: Development, Evolution, and Brain Bases

The Imitative Mind: Development, Evolution, and Brain Bases

The Imitative Mind: Development, Evolution, and Brain Bases


Modern research demonstrates that imitation is more complex and interesting than classical theories proposed. Monkeys do not imitate whereas humans are prolific imitators. This book provides an analysis of empirical work on imitation and shows how much can be learned through interdisciplinary research ranging from cells to individuals, apes to men, and babies to adults. Covering diverse perspectives on a great puzzle of human psychology, the book is multidisciplinary in its approach to revealing how and why we imitate.


An introduction to the imitative mind
and brain
Wolfgang Prinz and Andrew N. Meltzoff

Imitation guides the behavior of a range of species. Advances in the study of imitation, from brain to behavior, have profound implications for a variety of topics including consciousness, the neural underpinnings of perception-action coding, and the origins of theory of mind. Human beings are the most imitative creatures on the planet. We create but we also imitate, and this combination provides us with a special (though perhaps not unique) cognitive-social profile. This book provides insights into the imitative mind and brain, its evolution, development, and place in adult psychology. In so doing, it addresses a longstanding puzzle about how “self” and “other” are coded within our brains.


Imitation has a long and rich history. From a historical perspective, the interest in imitation is much broader than the more focused treatment we give it in the present book. For example, in the past, the term imitation has been used in a number of different ways in domains as diverse as theory of art, theology, ethology, cultural anthropology, and psychology. Platonic and Aristotelian theories, drama, the visual arts, and music were conceived as using the imitation of nature (imitatio naturae) as a principle of aesthetic performance. In medieval theology, the notion of imitatio christi stood for the way man could regain resemblance with God (lost through the Fall of Man), by leading a life in humility, hardship, and poverty. In anthropology there has long been a focus on cultural variations caused by imitation-based practices of transferring customs and technologies across generations.

In this book, we do not use imitation in these broad senses, but rather in a narrower psychological sense. Our focus is not on imitative practices in art, religion, or technology, but rather on manifestations of imitation in individual behaviors. We realize, of course, that there is not really a . . .

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