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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2017 Nov 1;12(11):1748-1757. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsx106.

Mirror and (absence of) counter-mirror responses to action sounds measured with TMS.

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Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology, School of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, University of Manchester, Manchester Academic Health Science Centre, Manchester M13 9PL, UK.
Department of Psychology, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Munich, Germany.
Université Paris Descartes and CNRS, Paris, France.


To what extent is the mirror neuron mechanism malleable to experience? The answer to this question can help characterising its ontogeny and its role in social cognition. Some suggest that it develops through sensorimotor associations congruent with our own actions. Others argue for its extreme volatility that will encode any sensorimotor association in the environment. Here, we added to this debate by exploring the effects of short goal-directed 'mirror' and 'counter-mirror' trainings (a 'mirror' training is defined as the first type of training encountered by the participants) on human auditory mirror motor-evoked potentials (MEPs). We recorded MEPs in response to two tones void of previous motor meaning, before and after mirror and counter-mirror trainings in which participants generated two tones of different pitch by performing free-choice button presses. The results showed that mirror MEPs, once established, were protected against an equivalent counter-mirror experience: they became manifest very rapidly and the same number of training trials that lead to the initial association did not suffice to reverse the MEP pattern. This steadiness of the association argues that, by serving direct-matching purposes, the mirror mechanism is a good solution for social cognition.


action sounds; mirror neurons; motor; motor and sensory learning; transcranial magnetic stimulation

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