Psychological distance modulates goal-based versus movement-based imitation

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-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
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)1031-1048
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 08.2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Oliver Genschow and Jochim Hansen contributed equally to this article and appear in alphabetical order as first authors. We thank Pinar Gezer, Sophie Graffius, Clarissa Gyssen, Josefine Kriwy, Maximilian Lüdke, Johanna Mi-chelbach, Manuel Stabenow, Tania Valero-Schönhöft, and Johanna Werz for their help creating the materials and conducting the experiments, as well as Chiara Jutzi, Stefan Reiß, and Thomas Scherndl for their help with the statistical analyses. This research was supported by grant P25307-G22 from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) awarded to Jochim Hansen.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Psychological Association.

    Research areas

  • Construal level, Goal, Imitation, Movement, Psychological distance
  • Business psychology