Psychological distance modulates goal-based versus movement-based imitation

Oliver Genschow, Jochim Hansen, Michaela Wänke, Yaacov Trope

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In past research on imitation, some findings suggest that imitation is goal based, whereas other findings suggest that imitation can also be based on a direct mapping of a model's movements without necessarily adopting the model's goal. We argue that the 2 forms of imitation are flexibly deployed in accordance with the psychological distance from the model. We specifically hypothesize that individuals are relatively more likely to imitate the model's goals when s/he is distant but relatively more likely to imitate the model's specific movements when s/he is proximal. This hypothesis was tested in 4 experiments using different imitation paradigms and different distance manipulations. Experiment 1 served as a pilot study and demonstrated that temporal distance (vs. proximity) increased imitation of a goal relative to the imitation of a movement. Experiments 2 and 3 measured goal-based and movementbased imitation independently of each other and found that spatial distance (vs. proximity) decreased the rate of goal errors (indicating more goal imitation) compared with movement errors. Experiment 4 demonstrated that psychological distance operates most likely at the input-that is, perceptual-level. The findings are discussed in relation to construal level theory and extant theories of imitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1031-1048
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2019


  • Construal level
  • Goal
  • Imitation
  • Movement
  • Psychological distance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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