Sensorimotor learning configures the human mirror system

Curr Biol. 2007 Sep 4;17(17):1527-31. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.08.006. Epub 2007 Aug 23.


Cells in the "mirror system" fire not only when an individual performs an action but also when one observes the same action performed by another agent [1-4]. The mirror system, found in premotor and parietal cortices of human and monkey brains, is thought to provide the foundation for social understanding and to enable the development of theory of mind and language [5-9]. However, it is unclear how mirror neurons acquire their mirror properties -- how they derive the information necessary to match observed with executed actions [10]. We address this by showing that it is possible to manipulate the selectivity of the human mirror system, and thereby make it operate as a countermirror system, by giving participants training to perform one action while observing another. Before this training, participants showed event-related muscle-specific responses to transcranial magnetic stimulation over motor cortex during observation of little- and index-finger movements [11-13]. After training, this normal mirror effect was reversed. These results indicate that the mirror properties of the mirror system are neither wholly innate [14] nor fixed once acquired; instead they develop through sensorimotor learning [15, 16]. Our findings indicate that the human mirror system is, to some extent, both a product and a process of social interaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation