As soon as they were discovered, mirror neurons were hailed as providing the bases of language, “theory of mind” (the ability to attribute mental states to others), imitation, empathy (and therefore morality), art, social cognition, as well as social life and intersubjectivity in general (hence the hypothesis that mirror neuron dysfunction underlies autism).
A widespread way of understanding the role of mirror neuron systems is to say that they simulate (“mirror”) observed actions, whether performed or depicted, and that such “embodied simulation” is the foundation of our capacity unconsciously to make sense of the actions, emotions, and sensations of others.
"On a hot summer day 15 years ago in Parma, Italy, a monkey sat in a special laboratory chair waiting for researchers to return from lunch. Thin wires had been implanted in the region of its brain involved in planning and carrying out movements.
Every time the monkey grasped and moved an object, some cells in that brain region would fire, and a monitor would register a sound: brrrrrip, brrrrrip, brrrrrip.
A graduate student entered the lab with an ice cream cone in his hand. The monkey stared at him. Then, something amazing happened: when the student raised the cone to his lips, the monitor sounded -- brrrrrip, brrrrrip, brrrrrip -- even though the monkey had not moved but had simply observed the student grasping the cone and moving it to his mouth."
A depiction of mirror neurons in action: the same neurons are activated when the monkey either perfo...
The source of the image above is a recent article on the contributions of mirror neurons to neuroscience, by JohnMark Taylor, a PhD student in the Harvard University Psychology Department. Read on:
Inspired by the homonymous book by Fernando Vidal and Francisco Ortega, this timespace presents the authors' genealogy of the cerebral subject and the influence of the neurological discourse in human sciences, mental health and culture.