Behavioral speed contagion: Automatic modulation of movement timing by observation of body movements

Katsumi Watanabe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


To coordinate our actions with those of others, it is crucial to not only choose an appropriate category of action but also to execute it at an appropriate timing. It is widely documented that people tend to unconsciously mimic others' behavior. The present study show that people also tend to modify their movement timing according to others' movements even when the observed and the to-be-executed movements are unrelated. Observers viewed either point-light biological motion, scrambled biological motion, or solid object motion. The stimulus sequence was presented at three different (half, normal, and double) rates. After a 300-2400-ms blank period, the observers performed a simple choice reaction-time task that was unrelated to the presented stimulus sequence. The observation of the biological motion produced a negative correlation between reaction time and stimulus speed, whereas no such trend was observed with the scrambled or solid object motion. Furthermore, speed-dependent modulation occurred only when the task was imposed within approximately 1 s after the offset of the biological motion. These results suggest that behavioral tempo may be contagious; the speed of others' movements may automatically influence the timing of movement execution by the observer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1514-1524
Number of pages11
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Mar
Externally publishedYes


  • Biological motion
  • Imitation
  • Reaction time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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