The Kavli Symposia
"Mirror Neurons: Interpretations and misinterpretations"
Mirror neurons are a set of neurons that discharge both when the monkey executes a specific motor act and when it observes another individual doing a similar act. In the first part of my lecture, I will review the basic functional properties mirror neurons. I will describe first their motor properties and will show that mirror neurons code the goal of a motor act. I will review then their visual properties showing that mirror neurons represent a mechanism that allows a direct understanding of what the agent is doing.
Mirror mechanism also exists in humans. Yet, there is some controversy on the role of the mirror mechanism in social cognition. I will discuss this issue and show that, although there are several mechanisms through which one can understand the behaviour of others, the parieto-frontal mechanism is the only mechanism that allows understanding others' actions from the inside giving the observing individual a "first-person" person grasp of other individuals' motor goals and intentions. I will conclude by discussing the role of mirror neurons in autism.