Socioeconomic status and self-other processing: socioeconomic status predicts interference in the automatic imitation task

Exp Brain Res. 2020 Apr;238(4):833-841. doi: 10.1007/s00221-020-05761-7. Epub 2020 Mar 4.


High-status individuals have been found to be less attuned to the behaviour of others in the social environment, at least in the absence of any specific instructions to pay attention to them. Previous work using neural measures has shown that socioeconomic status (SES) influences the degree to which people are attuned to the actions of others. In particular, individuals from low-SES backgrounds were found to exhibit more mu-suppression, which has been suggested to reflect greater levels of sensorimotor resonance, compared to their high-SES counterparts. However, it is unclear whether such effects on brain activity translate into behaviour. Here, we examined differences in automatic imitation between high-SES and low-SES individuals. The automatic imitation task involves participants making actions in response to a numerical cue, while simultaneously being exposed to an action that is incongruent or congruent with the cued response. Patterns of interference effect reveal the extent to which the congruence of the observed action affects performance of the cued response. Interference thus indexes self-other processing, where high levels of interference suggest an increased susceptibility to the actions of others. Our results show that individuals from low-SES backgrounds exhibit more interference than individuals from high-SES backgrounds. Regression analyses revealed a negative relationship between SES and the degree of interference. Overall, our findings suggest that differences in SES are linked to differences in self-other processing, which could be relevant for broader behavioural tendencies exhibited by individuals at varying levels of a social structure.

Keywords: Automatic imitation task; Imitation; Social power; Socioeconomic status.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior*
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Social Class*
  • Social Cognition
  • Social Perception*
  • Young Adult