The Smoke Around Mirror Neurons: Goals as Sociocultural and Emotional Organizers of Perception and Action in Learning



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Erratum Volume 2, Issue 3, iii, Article first published online: 12 August 2008

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Brain and Creativity Institute/Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California, 3641 Watt Way, Suite B17, Los Angeles, CA 90089-2520; e-mail:


ABSTRACT— From the pragmatists to the neo-Piagetians, development has been understood to involve cycles of perception and action—the internalization of interactions with the world and the construction of skills for acting in the world. From a neurobiological standpoint, new evidence suggests that neural activities related to action and perception converge in the brain in high-level sensory association and motor planning areas that have been described as “mirror neuron areas.” However, the term “mirroring” can be misleading for educators and neuroscientists alike, as it suggests a direct and largely passive internal reflection of another person’s goals and actions into one’s own brain. Building from my colleagues’ thoughts on my earlier study of two hemispherectomized boys (M. H. Immordino-Yang, 2007, pp. 66–83; see commentaries, this issue), in this response to commentaries, I suggest a model in which the internalization of another’s goals and actions happens in a culturally modulated dynamic interaction between minds and is grounded in the neuropsychological strengths and weaknesses of the learner. In this approach, learners capitalize on their strengths and preferences to internalize and construct representations of problem domains, a process that is organized by the “smoke around the mirrors”—sociocultural and emotional factors.