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J Neurosci. 2006 Dec 13;26(50):13067-75.

Positive emotions preferentially engage an auditory-motor "mirror" system.

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Magnetic Research Council Clinical Sciences Centre, Hammersmith Hospital Campus, Imperial College London, London W121 0NN, United Kingdom.


Social interaction relies on the ability to react to communication signals. Although cortical sensory-motor "mirror" networks are thought to play a key role in visual aspects of primate communication, evidence for a similar generic role for auditory-motor interaction in primate nonverbal communication is lacking. We demonstrate that a network of human premotor cortical regions activated during facial movement is also involved in auditory processing of affective nonverbal vocalizations. Within this auditory-motor mirror network, distinct functional subsystems respond preferentially to emotional valence and arousal properties of heard vocalizations. Positive emotional valence enhanced activation in a left posterior inferior frontal region involved in representation of prototypic actions, whereas increasing arousal enhanced activation in presupplementary motor area cortex involved in higher-order motor control. Our findings demonstrate that listening to nonverbal vocalizations can automatically engage preparation of responsive orofacial gestures, an effect that is greatest for positive-valence and high-arousal emotions. The automatic engagement of responsive orofacial gestures by emotional vocalizations suggests that auditory-motor interactions provide a fundamental mechanism for mirroring the emotional states of others during primate social behavior. Motor facilitation by positive vocal emotions suggests a basic neural mechanism for establishing cohesive bonds within primate social groups.

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