Training social cognition: from imitation to Theory of Mind

Idalmis Santiesteban, Sarah White, Jennifer Cook, Sam J Gilbert, Cecilia Heyes, Geoffrey Bird

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)


Evidence for successful socio-cognitive training in typical adults is rare. This study attempted to improve Theory of Mind (ToM) and visual perspective taking in healthy adults by training participants to either imitate or to inhibit imitation. Twenty-four hours after training, all participants completed tests of ToM and visual perspective taking. The group trained to inhibit their tendency to imitate showed improved performance on the visual perspective-taking test, but not the ToM test. Neither imitation training, nor general inhibition training, had this effect. These results support a novel theory of social cognition suggesting that the same self-other discrimination process underlies imitation inhibition and perspective taking. Imitation, perspective taking and ToM are all pro-social processes--ways in which we reach out to others. Therefore, it is striking that perspective taking can be enhanced by suppressing imitation; to understand another, sometimes we need, not to get closer, but to pull away.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)228-35
Number of pages8
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012


  • Adult
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mirror Neurons
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Perception
  • Theory of Mind
  • Visual Perception


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