Prosocial Consequences of Inhibiting Imitation

Jane Conway

February 23, 2021, 12:45–13:45


Room Zoom


The ability to switch between representations of the self and others (‘self-other control’) is a relevant mechanism across several socio-cognitive domains (e.g., imitation, visual perspective taking, empathy, theory of mind), but its relevance to prosocial behaviour has not yet been established. Previous research shows that training self-other control in one domain can result in improvements in a different domain. In two studies, we attempted to increase prosocial behaviour by training participants to either imitate (decreasing self-other control) or inhibit imitation (increasing self-other control). We hypothesised that those in the imitation-inhibition condition would show greater helping behaviour than those in the imitation condition. Results from both Study 1 (n = 86) and Study 2 (n = 121) confirmed our prediction; those trained to inhibit imitation were almost twice as likely to agree to a help request compared to those trained to imitate. These data are the first to demonstrate that self-other control is a relevant socio-cognitive mechanism in helping behaviour. Thinking of others rather than oneself is a core component of prosocial actions. We show that the ability to distinguish representations of others from representations of the self can be trained with prosocial effects.


Jane Conway, Prosocial Consequences of Inhibiting Imitation, IAST Lunch Seminar, Toulouse: IAST, February 23, 2021, 12:45–13:45, room Zoom.