What happened to mirror neurons?

Cecilia Heyes, Caroline Catmur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)
1185 Downloads (Pure)


Ten years ago, Perspectives in Psychological Science published the Mirror Neuron Forum, in which authors debated the role of mirror neurons in action understanding, speech, imitation, and autism and asked whether mirror neurons are acquired through visual-motor learning. Subsequent research on these themes has made significant advances, which should encourage further, more systematic research. For action understanding, multivoxel pattern analysis, patient studies, and brain stimulation suggest that mirror-neuron brain areas contribute to low-level processing of observed actions (e.g., distinguishing types of grip) but not to high-level action interpretation (e.g., inferring actors’ intentions). In the area of speech perception, although it remains unclear whether mirror neurons play a specific, causal role in speech perception, there is compelling evidence for the involvement of the motor system in the discrimination of speech in perceptually noisy conditions. For imitation, there is strong evidence from patient, brain-stimulation, and brain-imaging studies that mirror-neuron brain areas play a causal role in copying of body movement topography. In the area of autism, studies using behavioral and neurological measures have tried and failed to find evidence supporting the “broken-mirror theory” of autism. Furthermore, research on the origin of mirror neurons has confirmed the importance of domain-general visual-motor associative learning rather than canalized visual-motor learning, or motor learning alone.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1745691621990638
JournalPerspectives On Psychological Science
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'What happened to mirror neurons?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this