Mirror neuron system involvement in empathy: A critical look at the evidence

Amee D. Baird, Ingrid E. Scheffer, Sarah J. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

It has been proposed that the human mirror neuron system (MNS) plays an integral role in mediating empathy. In this review, we critically examine evidence from three bodies of research that have been cited as supporting this notion: (1) behavioral studies that have examined the relationship between imitation and empathy, (2) findings from functional neuroimaging studies that report a positive correlation between MNS activation and self-report on an empathy questionnaire, and (3) observations of impaired imitation and empathy in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In addition, we briefly review lesion studies of the neural correlates of imitation and empathy. Current evidence suggests that the MNS is broadly involved in empathy, but at this stage there has been limited consideration of its various forms, including motor, emotional, and cognitive empathy. There are also various forms of imitation, encompassing emotional and non-emotional, automatic, and voluntary actions. We propose that the relationship between imitation and empathy may vary depending on the specific type of each of these abilities. Furthermore, these abilities may be mediated by partially distinct neural networks, which involve the MNS to a variable degree.

LanguageEnglish
Pages327-335
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Neuroscience
Volume6
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

Mirror Neurons
imitation
empathy
evidence
Aptitude
lesion
Functional Neuroimaging
ability
autism
neural network
Self Report
activation

Keywords

  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
  • Empathy
  • Imitation
  • Mirror neuron system

Cite this

Baird, Amee D. ; Scheffer, Ingrid E. ; Wilson, Sarah J. / Mirror neuron system involvement in empathy : A critical look at the evidence. In: Social Neuroscience. 2011 ; Vol. 6, No. 4. pp. 327-335.
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Mirror neuron system involvement in empathy : A critical look at the evidence. / Baird, Amee D.; Scheffer, Ingrid E.; Wilson, Sarah J.

In: Social Neuroscience, Vol. 6, No. 4, 08.2011, p. 327-335.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

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