Marnix Naber, Maryam Vaziri Pashkam, and Ken Nakayama
PNAS December 10, 2013 vol. 110 no. 50 20046-20050
Imitation typically occurs in social contexts where people interact and have common goals. Here, we show that people are also highly susceptible to imitate each other in a competitive context. Pairs of players performed a competitive and fast-reaching task (a variant of the arcade whac-a-mole game) in which money could be earned if players hit brief-appearing visual targets on a large touchscreen before their opponents. In three separate experiments, we demonstrate that reaction times and movements were highly correlated within pairs of players. Players affected their success by imitating each other, and imitation depended on the visibility of the opponent’s behavior. Imitation persisted, despite the competitive and demanding nature of the game, even if this resulted in lower scores and payoffs and even when there was no need to counteract the opponent’s actions.