The influence of prosocial priming on visual perspective taking and automatic imitation

Rachel Newey, Kami Koldewyn, Richard Ramsey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)


Imitation and perspective taking are core features of non-verbal social interactions. We imitate one another to signal a desire to affiliate and consider others’ points of view to better understand their perspective. Prior research suggests that a relationship exists between prosocial behaviour and imitation. For example, priming prosocial behaviours has been shown to increase imitative tendencies in automatic imitation tasks. Despite its importance during social interactions, far less is known about how perspective taking might relate to either prosociality or imitation. The current study investigates the relationship between automatic imitation and perspective taking by testing the extent to which these skills are similarly modulated by prosocial priming. Across all experimental groups, a surprising ceiling effect emerged in the perspective taking task (the Director’s Task), which prevented the investigation of prosocial priming on perspective taking. A comparison of other studies using the Director’s Task shows wide variability in accuracy scores across studies and is suggestive of low task reliability. In addition, despite using a high-power design, and contrary to three previous studies, no effect of prosocial prime on imitation was observed. Meta-analysing all studies to date suggests that the effects of prosocial primes on imitation are variable and could be small. The current study, therefore, offers caution when using the computerised Director’s Task as a measure of perspective taking with adult populations, as it shows high variability across studies and may suffer from a ceiling effect. In addition, the results question the size and robustness of prosocial priming effects on automatic imitation. More generally, by reporting null results we hope to minimise publication bias and by meta-analysing results as studies emerge and making data freely available, we hope to move towards a more cumulative science of social cognition.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0198867
Number of pages19
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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