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Hum Brain Mapp. 2009 Jul;30(7):2063-76. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20653.

The human mirror neuron system in a population with deficient self-awareness: an fMRI study in alexithymia.

Author information

1
Department of Psychosomatic Research, National Institute of Mental Health, National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, Kodaira City, Tokyo, Japan. ymorigu@ncnp.go.jp

Abstract

The mirror neuron system (MNS) is considered crucial for human imitation and language learning and provides the basis for the development of empathy and mentalizing. Alexithymia (ALEX), which refers to deficiencies in the self-awareness of emotional states, has been reported to be associated with poor ability in various aspects of social cognition such as mentalizing, cognitive empathy, and perspective-taking. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we measured the hemodynamic signal to examine whether there are functional differences in the MNS activity between participants with ALEX (n = 16) and without ALEX (n = 13), in response to a classic MNS task (i.e., the observation of video clips depicting goal-directed hand movements). Both groups showed increased neural activity in the premotor and the parietal cortices during observation of hand actions. However, activation was greater for the ALEX group than the non-ALEX group. Furthermore, activation in the left premotor area was negatively correlated with perspective-taking ability as assessed with the interpersonal reactivity index. The signal in parietal cortices was negatively correlated with cognitive facets assessed by the stress coping inventory and positively correlated with the neuroticism scale from the NEO five factor personality scale. In addition, in the ALEX group, activation in the right superior parietal region showed a positive correlation with the severity of ALEX as measured by a structured interview. These results suggest that the stronger MNS-related neural response in individuals scoring high on ALEX is associated with their insufficient self-other differentiation.

PMID:
18781590
DOI:
10.1002/hbm.20653
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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