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Neuroscientist. 2011 Oct;17(5):524-38. doi: 10.1177/1073858410392239. Epub 2011 Apr 5.

The mirror neuron system: a fresh view.

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  • 1Center for Neuroscience and Cognitive Systems, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Rovereto, Italy.


Mirror neurons are a class of visuomotor neurons in the monkey premotor and parietal cortices that discharge during the execution and observation of goal-directed motor acts. They are deemed to be at the basis of primates' social abilities. In this review, the authors provide a fresh view about two still open questions about mirror neurons. The first question is their possible functional role. By reviewing recent neurophysiological data, the authors suggest that mirror neurons might represent a flexible system that encodes observed actions in terms of several behaviorally relevant features. The second question concerns the possible developmental mechanisms responsible for their initial emergence. To provide a possible answer to question, the authors review two different aspects of sensorimotor development: facial and hand movements, respectively. The authors suggest that possibly two different "mirror" systems might underlie the development of action understanding and imitative abilities in the two cases. More specifically, a possibly prewired system already present at birth but shaped by the social environment might underlie the early development of facial imitative abilities. On the contrary, an experience-dependent system might subserve perception-action couplings in the case of hand movements. The development of this latter system might be critically dependent on the observation of own movements.

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