[Mirror neurons, neural substrate of action understanding?]

Abstract

In 1992, the Laboratory of Human Physiology at the University of Parma (Italy) publish a study describing “mirror” neurons in the macaque that activate both when the monkey performs an action and when it observes an experimenter performing the same action. The research team behind this discovery postulates that the mirror neurons system is the neural basis of our ability to understand the actions of others, through the motor mapping of the observed action on the observer's motor repertory (direct-matching hypothesis). Nevertheless, this conception met serious criticism. These critics attempt to relativize their function by placing them within a network of neurocognitive and sensory interdependencies. In short, the essential characteristic of these neurons is to combine the processing of sensory information, especially visual, with that of motor information. Their elementary function would be to provide a motor simulation of the observed action, based on visual information from it. They can contribute, with other non-mirror areas, to the identification/prediction of the action goal and to the interpretation of the intention of the actor performing it. Studying the connectivity and high frequency synchronizations of the different brain areas involved in action observation would likely provide important information about the dynamic contribution of mirror neurons to “action understanding”. The aim of this review is to provide an up-to-date analysis of the scientific evidence related to mirror neurons and their elementary functions, as well as to shed light on the contribution of these neurons to our ability to interpret and understand others’ actions.SCOPUS: ar.jinfo:eu-repo/semantics/publishe

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