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Imitation strategies in subjects with schizophrenia: a behavioural approach

R. Sansonetti, C. Pierpaoli, L. Ferrante, M. Fabri, B. Nardi


Imitation is a basic human ability, present early in life. Previous studies on control subjects and callosotomized patients showed that imitation occurred mainly in mirror-mode in both groups (60% controls, 66% patients) when they imitate without instructions (free sessions). In contrast, when asked to use the same or opposite limb as the model (driven sessions), controls used anatomical mode (93%), callosotomized patients mainly mirror strategy (61%). It has been suggested that callosotomized subjects prefer the mirror mode because of an impaired capacity for mental rotation, likely due to the lack of the corpus callosum (CC). The present research investigated the imitation strategies used by schizophrenic patients, who also could present anomaly in the interhemispheric connections. Fifteen hospitalized patients with diagnosis of schizophrenia participated in the study. They were asked to imitate upper limb intransitive meaningful and meaningless gestures performed by a model in a video. The results were compared with those from 20 healthy individuals. In driven imitation, controls answered in anatomical mode (95% of the responses), versus 63% of patients’ responses. In free imitation sessions the answers in anatomical mode decreased to 39% in control subjects and to 46% in schizophrenic patients. In both driven and free imitation, the differences between the two proportions, conditioned to Diagnosis, resulted significantly different. The present data, in line with previous studies on psychotic and neurological patients showing impairments on imitation, suggest that the neural circuitry leading patients to perform differently from controls likely relates with the functional efficiency of the CC.


Imitation; Mirror Neurons; Intransitive Gestures; Psychosis; Schizophrenia; Corpus Callosum; White Matter.

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