A Functional-Cognitive Perspective on Social Modulation of Imitation in Individuals With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder
Imitation plays a central role in our social life, by causing us to behave prosocially and facilitating social interaction. In line with its social function, it has been argued that imitation should be modulated by social factors relevant for social interaction and disrupted in people with social deficits, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, research on both hypotheses has provided inconsistent results. We propose that these inconsistencies were caused by the absence of a strong theoretical framework and the low ecological validity of previously employed tasks. The current project will resolve both issues, by combining a functional-cognitive framework with an ecologically valid virtual-reality task, to test the social modulation of imitation in individuals with and without ASD. More specifically, we will first focus on the specific functions that social factors can have within a functional framework. That is, social factors can function as discriminative stimuli, establishing operations, or reinforcers/punishers. Then, we will compare these functions in adults with and without ASD. The findings of this project will give us important insights into the longstanding question of whether imitation is influenced by social factors and will contribute to a deeper understanding of the role of imitation in the social interactions of both neurotypicals and people with ASD.