Imitation inhibition in children with Tourette syndrome

J Neuropsychol. 2019 Mar;13(1):82-95. doi: 10.1111/jnp.12132. Epub 2017 Aug 12.


Objective: Echopraxia, that is, the open and automatic imitation of other peoples' actions, is common in patients with Gilles de la Tourette syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, and also those with frontal lobe lesions. While systematic reaction time tasks have confirmed increased automatic imitation in the latter two groups, adult patients with Tourette syndrome appear to compensate for automatic imitation tendencies by an overall slowing in response times. However, whether children with Tourette syndrome are already able to inhibit automatic imitation tendencies has not been investigated.

Method: Fifteen children with Tourette syndrome and 15 healthy children (aged 7-12 years) performed an imitation inhibition paradigm. Participants were asked to respond to an auditory cue by lifting their index finger or their little finger. Participants were simultaneously presented with either compatible or incompatible visual stimuli.

Results: Overall responses in children with Tourette syndrome were slower than in healthy children. Although responses were faster in compatible than in incompatible trials in both groups, this 'interference effect' was smaller in children with Tourette syndrome.

Conclusions: Children with Tourette syndrome have a smaller interference effect than healthy children, indicating an enhanced ability to behaviourally control automatic imitation tendencies at the cost of reacting slower. The results suggest that children with Tourette syndrome already employ different or additional inhibition strategies compared to healthy children.

Keywords: Tic; Tourette syndrome; echopraxia; imitation; inhibition; mirror neuron system.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Child
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior*
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reaction Time
  • Tourette Syndrome / psychology*
  • Wechsler Scales