Self–other control processes in social cognition: From imitation to empathy

Marie de Guzman, Geoffrey Bird, Michael J. Banissy, Caroline Catmur*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

93 Citations (Scopus)


We review the evidence that an ability to achieve a precise balance between representing the self and representing other people is crucial in social interaction. This ability is required for imitation, perspective-taking, theory of mind and empathy; and disruption to this ability may contribute to the symptoms of clinical and sub-clinical conditions, including autismspectrumdisorder and mirror-touch synaesthesia. Moving beyond correlational approaches, a recent intervention study demonstrated that training participants to control representations of the self and others improves their ability to control imitative behaviour, and to take another’s visual perspective. However, it is unclear whether these effects apply to other areas of social interaction, such as the ability to empathize with others. We report original data showing that participants trained to increase self–other control in the motor domain demonstrated increased empathic corticospinal responses (Experiment 1) and self-reported empathy (Experiment 2), as well as an increased ability to control imitation. These results suggest that the ability to control self and other representations contributes to empathy as well as to other types of social interaction.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1686
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


  • Empathy
  • Imitation–inhibition
  • Motor-evoked potentials
  • Self–other control
  • Social interaction
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation


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