Empathy and the somatotopic auditory mirror system in humans

Curr Biol. 2006 Sep 19;16(18):1824-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2006.07.072.


How do we understand the actions of other individuals if we can only hear them? Auditory mirror neurons respond both while monkeys perform hand or mouth actions and while they listen to sounds of similar actions . This system might be critical for auditory action understanding and language evolution . Preliminary evidence suggests that a similar system may exist in humans . Using fMRI, we searched for brain areas that respond both during motor execution and when individuals listened to the sound of an action made by the same effector. We show that a left hemispheric temporo-parieto-premotor circuit is activated in both cases, providing evidence for a human auditory mirror system. In the left premotor cortex, a somatotopic pattern of activation was also observed: A dorsal cluster was more involved during listening and execution of hand actions, and a ventral cluster was more involved during listening and execution of mouth actions. Most of this system appears to be multimodal because it also responds to the sight of similar actions. Finally, individuals who scored higher on an empathy scale activated this system more strongly, adding evidence for a possible link between the motor mirror system and empathy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*