Mimicry and Imitation in Autism Spectrum Disorders
University of Connecticut
Many researchers believe that a deficit in mimicry (the tendency to copy gestures and facial expressions of others) and thus an inability to learn that the self and others are similarly emotional beings, may be central to the development of autism. But to date, only one published study directly demonstrates that people with autism have a specific deficit in mimicry. This research will better establish a link between mimicry deficits and ASD symptoms. The study will also document whether people with autism also lack the biological process resulting from mimicry called facial feedback. Facial feedback is the process by which our inner emotions are affected by our facial gestures, causing us to literally feel what others are feeling through the mimicry of their faces. Such “emotional contagion” enables the typical person to bond more closely and to better interpret others' intentions and state of mind. If impairments in mimicry, facial feedback, and emotional contagion are consistently found in people with ASD, the impairments could suggest a pathway for the development of the disorder. What this means for people with autism: If interventions can aid in the ability to mimic the faces and feel the same emotions as others, then one of the most crippling elements of autism—the lack of ability to understand and relate well to others—might be greatly alleviated.