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Abstract

Mirror neurons are a class of visuomotor neurons, discovered in the monkey premotor cortex and in an anatomically connected area of the inferior parietal lobule, that activate both during action execution and action observation. They constitute a circuit dedicated to match actions made by others with the internal motor representations of the observer. It has been proposed that this matching system enables individuals to understand others' behavior and motor intentions. Here we will describe the main features of mirror neurons in monkeys. Then we will present evidence of the presence of a mirror system in humans and of its involvement in several social–cognitive functions, such as imitation, intention, and emotion understanding. This system may have several implications at a cognitive level and could be linked to specific social deficits in humans such as autism. Recent investigations addressed the issue of the plasticity of the mirror neuron system in both monkeys and humans, suggesting also their possible use in rehabilitation. WIREs Cogn Sci 2011 2 22–38 DOI: 10.1002/wcs.89

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