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The role of sensorimotor processes in social group contagion

  • Cracco, Emiel
  • Brass, Marcel
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2018
DOI: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2018.02.001
Ghent University Institutional Archive
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Although it is well known that action observation triggers an imitative response, not much is known about how these responses develop as a function of group size. Research on social contagion suggests that imitative tendencies initially increase but then stabilize as groups become larger. However, these findings have mainly been explained in terms of interpretative processes. Across seven experiments (N = 322), the current study investigated the contribution of sensorimotor processes to social group contagion by looking at the relation between group size and automatic imitation in a task that involved minimal interpretation. The results of Experiments 1–2 revealed that automatic imitation increased with group size according to an asymptotic curve on congruent trials but a linear curve on incongruent trials. The results of Experiments 3–7 showed that the asymptote on congruent trials disappeared when no control was needed, namely in the absence of incongruent trials. This suggests that the asymptote in the relation between group size and automatic imitation can be explained in terms of strategic control mechanisms that aim to prevent unintended imitative responses. The findings of the current study are in close correspondence with previous research in the social domain and as such support the hypothesis that sensorimotor processes contribute to the relation between group size and social contagion.

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