Is there evidence for automatic imitation in a strategic context?

  • Aczel B
  • Bago B
  • Foldes A
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Over the past decade, a compelling number of studies reported that observing an action makes the imitation of that action more likely. The automatic character of human imitative behaviour was often claimed, but rarely tested. The demonstration of the absence of conscious control has been attempted in a recent report claiming that imitation can occur in the rock-paper-scissors (RPS) game, where strategic players should avoid imitating their opponents. This surprising result could serve as strong evidence that humans imitate each other unconsciously. We find, however, that this conclusion is problematic. In addition to reviewing the original methods, in this work, we also replicated the experiment with double the sample size. Thorough examination of the original analyses and the results of the present replication do not support the original conclusion. In our view, testing the theory of automatic imitation in RPS games is a potentially promising avenue of exploration, yet the interpretation of the data requires further understanding of the subsidiary effects controlling the behaviour of the players.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Automatic imitation
  • Mirror neuron system
  • Rock-paper-scissors

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  • Andrei FoldesPeter Pazmany Catholic University Faculty of Information Technology and Bionics

  • Balazs Aczel

  • Bence Bago

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