Mirroring in the Neurotypical and Autistic Brain
First discovered in the macaque, mirror neurons – neurons that fire when executing a goal-directed action as well as when observing the same action being performed by others – are thought to provide a neural mechanism whereby others’ actions and intentions can be readily understood. More recent findings, including single cell recordings in humans, suggest that mirroring is not a peculiar property of the motor system but a more common phenomenon whereby vicarious neural activity may also be used to read others’ mental states and perhaps empathize with how they feel as well. Importantly, mirror neurons may also provide a neural substrate for imitation, a critical means for cultural learning in humans. In this talk, I will first describe the relevance of mirror neurons for social functioning. I will then discuss the empirical evidence suggesting that the so-called ‘mirror neuron system’ may be hyporesponsive in autism. Lastly, I will conclude by highlighting critical questions for future research in these areas.