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Reflecting on mirrors


BrainFactor, Milan, Italy

* Facoltà di Psicologia, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, Italy












Progress in Neuroscience 2013; 1 (1-4): 45-49.

doi: 10.14588/PiN.2013.Mozzoni.45







Since their discovery, mirror neurons have opened new avenues that may help us to discern the

neural basis of many cognitive behaviours, like action understanding, imitation, language, theory of mind and “mentalism”. Many articles have been published in support of or refuting the involvement of mirror neurons in these cognitive functions, from both anatomical and physiological  perspectives. For example, the concept of “action understanding”, a function ascribed to the mirror neuron system with which we are purportedly able to interpret and comprehend the actions of others, has been refuted on at least eight fundamental points, while, at the opposite

end of the spectrum, other researchers are placing great faith in the mirror neuron hypothesis, convinced not only that it can explain human behaviour and abilities, but also postulating that the same cognitive processes in which mirror neurons are supposed to be involved could be affected in neurological disorders like autism and autistic spectrum disorders. They base this conviction on the fact that autism reflects the alteration of different nervous structures and activities in the brain, as well as information processing and synaptic connections. In particular, they say, the deficit in autistic subjects of affective and emotional behaviour, and their impaired ability to understand it in others could be due to an alteration of the mirror neuron system function. The potential connections between autism and the mirror neuron system functions are numerous, and could involve imitation, theory of mind, empathy and language. In this “broken mirror hypothesis”, the mirror neuron system is used as an explanation for the mechanisms underlying autism, but this is hotly disputed. This review aims to give voice to both proponents of the mirror neuron system and those who oppose it to provide the reader with an overview of the situation as is, as well as an insight into the history of the mirror neurons and what their future may hold.

KEY WORDS: Autism, Broken mirror hypothesis, Imitation, Mirror neuron system.










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