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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2007 Mar;2(1):62-6. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsl022.

The human mirror neuron system: a link between action observation and social skills.

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  • 1Center for Brain and Cognition, Department of Psychology, University of California-San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0515, USA.


The discovery of the mirror neuron system (MNS) has led researchers to speculate that this system evolved from an embodied visual recognition apparatus in monkey to a system critical for social skills in humans. It is accepted that the MNS is specialized for processing animate stimuli, although the degree to which social interaction modulates the firing of mirror neurons has not been investigated. In the current study, EEG mu wave suppression was used as an index of MNS activity. Data were collected while subjects viewed four videos: (1) Visual White Noise: baseline, (2) Non-interacting: three individuals tossed a ball up in the air to themselves, (3) Social Action, Spectator: three individuals tossed a ball to each other and (4) Social Action, Interactive: similar to video 3 except occasionally the ball would be thrown off the screen toward the viewer. The mu wave was modulated by the degree of social interaction, with the Non-interacting condition showing the least suppression, followed by the Social Action, Spectator condition and the Social Action, Interactive condition showing the most suppression. These data suggest that the human MNS is specialized not only for processing animate stimuli, but specifically stimuli with social relevance.

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