From self-observation to imitation: Visuomotor association on a robotic hand

Thierry Chaminade, Erhan Oztop, Gordon Cheng, Mitsuo Kawato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Being at the crux of human cognition and behaviour, imitation has become the target of investigations ranging from experimental psychology and neurophysiology to computational sciences and robotics. It is often assumed that the imitation is innate, but it has more recently been argued, both theoretically and experimentally, that basic forms of imitation could emerge as a result of self-observation. Here, we tested this proposal on a realistic experimental platform, comprising an associative network linking a 16 degrees of freedom robotic hand and a simple visual system. We report that this minimal visuomotor association is sufficient to bootstrap basic imitation. Our results indicate that crucial features of human imitation, such as generalization to new actions, may emerge from a connectionist associative network. Therefore, we suggest that a behaviour as complex as imitation could be, at the neuronal level, founded on basic mechanisms of associative learning, a notion supported by a recent proposal on the developmental origin of mirror neurons. Our approach can be applied to the development of realistic cognitive architectures for humanoid robots as well as to shed new light on the cognitive processes at play in early human cognitive development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)775-784
Number of pages10
JournalBrain Research Bulletin
Issue number6
StatePublished - 15 Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Associative learning
  • Imitation


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