Echopraxia is when somebody involuntarily imitates the
movements of another. Examples include simple
movements (e.g., waving a hand) to violent movements
(e.g., kicking someone). Note that this is different from
the normal copying of movements that occurs in early
development (up to age 3) that is crucial for helping
children learn physical actions. It is when these
imitative actions become involuntary, reactive, and not
for the purposes of learning that they are referred to as
echopraxia, particularly after age five. In children, these
repetitive behaviors often occur in school when
imitating other children.
Echopraxia is the imitation of
movements but unlike the picture
above, the imitation is involuntary.
Echopraxia is sometimes accompanied by echolalia. Echolalia is when someone repeats
the speech of somebody else in an involuntary and meaningless way. Because echolalia
can occur in cases of aphasia, echopraxia and aphasia also co-occur at times. Aphasia
is a disorder of understanding language and/or expressing language caused by brain
WHAT CAUSES ECHOPRAXIA?
Both echopraxia and echolalia are caused by brain injury, brain disease, and/or brain
dysfunction. For example, echopraxia is known to occur after damage to the frontal lobes
of the brain.
The frontal lobe is an area of brain tissue located in the front of the
brain on both sides. This part of the brain contains areas with mirror
neurons, which are nerve cells that fire when we perform an action
and when we witness someone else perform the same action. It
has been theorized that abnormalities with the mirror nervous
system can lead to echopraxia but this has not been proven.
Echopraxia is common in Tourette syndrome, which is an inherited
disorder that begins in childhood consisting of multiple motor tics
and at least one vocal tic. A tic is a sudden, repetitive, non-rhythmic
movement or sound.
A similar condition to Tourette syndrome in Southeast Asia known as Latah is characterized by an
exaggerated startle response and resulting abnormal behaviors. Echopraxia is known to occur in cases of
Latah and other cases of where exaggerated startle responses are present. Echopraxia is also present
in various autoimmune disorders. An autoimmune disorder is one in which a person's organs or tissues
are mistakenly attacked by his/her immune system (defense system).
Echopraxia is known to occur in some cases of epilepsy (recurrent episodes of seizures). A seizure is an
overexcitable state of nerve cells in the brain, sometimes leading to sudden, violent, involuntary
contractions of a group of muscles and/or manifestations of decreased awareness of environmental
surroundings. Echopraxia is known to occur in cases of dementia. Dementia is a progressive loss of
cognitive and intellectual functioning without loss of consciousness. Echopraxia can also occur in patients
who have brain tumors. Tumors are abnormal masses of tissue that form when cells in a certain area of
the body reproduce at an increased rate.
Echopraxia is known to occur in mood disorders such as major depressive disorder. It is also known to
occur in Ganser syndrome. Ganser syndrome is a psychological problem in which a person provides non-
sensible or wrong answers responses but often close to the correct answer. Echopraxia can occur in
autism and related disorders. Autism (autistic disorder) is a type of neurodevelopmental disorder that
causes impairments in social interaction, impairments in communication, and restricted, repetitive, and
stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. Echopraxia can occur in schizophrenia,
especially the form that presents with catatonia. Schizophrenia is a type of mental disorder in which one
loses contact with reality. Catatonia is a condition characterized by a lack of movement, decreased
responsiveness, rigid muscles, and agitation.
HOW IS ECHOPRAXIA DIAGNOSED?
Echopraxia is diagnosed by a health care provider via behavioral observation. There are no formal tests
for echopraxia, however. It is not diagnosed before age 3 because it is very difficult to distinguish
between behaviors that are copied purposely versus non-purposely. Some involuntary imitative behavior
is so widespread (e.g., imitative yawning) that it is considered normal as opposed to being labeled as
echopraxia. Voluntary imitative behaviors (e.g., imitating someone to bother the person) are not
HOW IS ECHOPRAXIA TREATED?
Echopraxia is treated by treating the underlying condition causing it.
WHAT ELSE IS ECHOPRAXIA KNOWN AS?
Echopraxia is also known as echomotism.
Echopraxia comes from the Greek word "echo" meaning "sound," and the Greek word "praxis" meaning
"action." Put the words together and you have "sound action."