Your Goal Is Mine: Unraveling Mimetic Desires in the Human Brain

J Neurosci. 2012 May 23;32(21):7146-57. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4821-11.2012.


The spread of desires among individuals is widely believed to shape motivational drives in human populations. However, objective evidence for this phenomenon and insights into the underlying brain mechanisms are still lacking. Here we show that participants rated objects as more desirable once perceived as the goals of another agent's action. We then unravel the mechanisms underpinning such goal contagion, using functional neuroimaging. As expected, observing goal-directed actions activated a parietofrontal network known as the mirror neuron system (MNS), whereas subjective desirability ratings were represented in a ventral striatoprefrontal network known as the brain valuation system (BVS). Crucially, the induction of mimetic desires through action observation involved the modulation of BVS activity through MNS activity. Furthermore, MNS-BVS effective connectivity predicted individual susceptibility toward mimetic desires. We therefore suggest that MNS-BVS interaction represents a fundamental mechanism explaining how nonverbal behavior propagates desires without the need for explicit, intentional communication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Functional Neuroimaging / methods
  • Functional Neuroimaging / psychology*
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / psychology
  • Male
  • Mirror Neurons / physiology
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Nonverbal Communication / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology