NEUROSCIENCE: Playing with Mirrors

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Science  31 Aug 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5842, pp. 1149b
DOI: 10.1126/science.317.5842.1149b

Since the initial characterization of mirror neurons in the monkey—visuomotor neurons that fire during both execution and observation of movements—more than a decade ago, there has been much speculation about whether similar neurons in the human brain are involved in a wide range of social cognitive processes, such as understanding the emotions and intentions of others. Dinstein et al. point out that many of the human brain areas thus implicated were characterized as being active during imitation and have not always been shown to encode movements in a selective manner. Using brain imaging of subjects playing the rock-paper-scissors game, they describe a set of six cortical areas that were active during the observation and the execution of the three types of hand configurations, where selectivity was defined as a suppressed response to a repeated configuration (for instance, playing rock followed by rock). The same regions, in addition to a host of others, were active during imitation trials (simultaneous observation and execution) and also were active, albeit only weakly, during instructed movement trials—these two kinds of tasks having been used in most prior studies of human mirror neuron-like responses. One intriguing question raised by these findings is whether there might exist distinct, interspersed populations of visual and motor neurons within these regions. — GJC

J. Neurophysiol. 98, 10.1152/jn.00238.2007 (2007).

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