Neuron Culture

Mirror Neuron Backlash

A backlash is brewing against the mirror neuron theory, or at least its overextension. (Fair disclosure: I was part of the alleged problem.) I picked this up distinctly at the Society of Neuroscience meeting last November. I’ve seen it in the literature since. Last week, I convinced Greg Hickok, a cogsci/language researcher at UC Irvine, to make his case in Scientific American’s Mind Matters for checking mirror-neuron-theory overreach. An excerpt is below, and you can check out the whole thing at Mirror Neurons — Rock Stars or Backup Singers?

Sorry, couldn’t resist the photo.

Hickok, I should note, keeps a blog called Talking Brain on the neural organization of language with his colleague David Poeppel. Well worth checking out. Meantime his Mind Matters entry on mirror neurons is below:

Mirror neurons are the rock stars of cognitive neuroscience. Discovered in the mid-1990s by Giacomo Rizzolattiand his colleagues at the University of Parma, these brain cells have been claimed to be the neural basis for a host of complex human behaviors including imitation, action understanding, language, empathy, and mind-reading – not psychic mind-reading, but our capacity to “get inside someone else’s head” and imagine how they feel or what they might do. Meanwhile, dysfunction of the mirror neuron system has been linked to developmental disorders, such as autism. With that kind of explanatory range, it’s no surprise that mirror neurons have headlined in all forms of news media. But is this rock star status deserved? Will mirror neurons have the star power longevity of Mick Jagger? Or are they just back up singers?

[From Mirror Neurons — Rock Stars or Backup Singers?