Mirror neurons were first documented in the macaque monkey a little over ten years ago. Their discovery has led to the formulation of several theories about their function in humans, including suggestions that mirror neurons are involved in understanding the meaning and intentions of observed actions, learning by imitation, feeling empathy, formation of a 'theory of mind', and even the development of language. Hypotheses have also been made about the consequences of mirror neuron dysfunction; foremost among these is the notion that such a dysfunction during development leads to many of the social and cognitive symptoms associated with the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Yet, despite a decade of prolific research on these appealing theories, there is little evidence to support them. In this essay, we review the current state of 'mirror system' research, point to several weaknesses in the field, and offer suggestions for how better to study these remarkably interesting neurons in both neurotypical and autistic individuals.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)