This Tuesday at Sensorimotor Journal Club, I will present a review paper on what is “hot topic” these days (but in spite of this, is still an interesting topic!): The so-called “Mirror Neurons” of the brain:
Rizzolatti, G., & Craighero, L. (2004). The mirror-neuron system. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 27, 169-192. (link to pdf of this article)
A category of stimuli of great importance for primates, humans in particular, is that formed by actions done by other individuals. If we want to survive, we must understand the actions of others. Furthermore, without action understanding, social organization is impossible. In the case of humans, there is another faculty that depends on the observation of others' actions: imitation learning. Unlike most species, we are able to learn by imitation, and this faculty is at the basis of human culture. In this review we present data on a neurophysiological mechanism--the mirror-neuron mechanism--that appears to play a fundamental role in both action understanding and imitation. We describe first the functional properties of mirror neurons in monkeys. We review next the characteristics of the mirror-neuron system in humans. We stress, in particular, those properties specific to the human mirror-neuron system that might explain the human capacity to learn by imitation. We conclude by discussing the relationship between the mirror-neuron system and language.