Gender differences in the mu rhythm of the human mirror-neuron system

PLoS One. 2008 May 7;3(5):e2113. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002113.


Background: Psychologically, females are usually thought to be superior in interpersonal sensitivity than males. The human mirror-neuron system is considered to provide the basic mechanism for social cognition. However, whether the human mirror-neuron system exhibits gender differences is not yet clear.

Methodology/principal findings: We measured the electroencephalographic mu rhythm, as a reliable indicator of the human mirror-neuron system activity, when female (N = 20) and male (N = 20) participants watched either hand actions or a moving dot. The display of the hand actions included androgynous, male, and female characteristics. The results demonstrate that females displayed significantly stronger mu suppression than males when watching hand actions. Instead, mu suppression was similar across genders when participants observed the moving dot and between the perceived sex differences (same-sex vs. opposite-sex). In addition, the mu suppressions during the observation of hand actions positively correlated with the personal distress subscale of the interpersonal reactivity index and negatively correlated with the systemizing quotient.

Conclusions/significance: The present findings indirectly lend support to the extreme male brain theory put forward by Baron-Cohen (2005), and may cast some light on the mirror-neuron dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders. The mu rhythm in the human mirror-neuron system can be a potential biomarker of empathic mimicry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Emotions*
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Motor Activity
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics*