[Empathy and mirror neurons. A view on contemporary neuropsychological empathy research]

Prax Kinderpsychol Kinderpsychiatr. 2012;61(5):322-35. doi: 10.13109/prkk.2012.61.5.322.
[Article in German]


Neurons firing both to specific actions performed by self and matching actions performed by others are classified as mirror neurons. Since its discovery in 1991, this phenomenon has been surveyed in the field of motor and sensorimotor function and incipiently in the field of language and emotions. The research group of Giacomo Rizzolatti assumes that mirror neurons form the biological basis of compassion and thereby of affective empathic experience. The research regarding mirror neurons is yet in early stages and further research is required to specify mirror neuron systems. In view of empathy it is the insula which is of central importance for the recognition of disgust. The discovery of mirror neurons allows a comprehension of empathy as an immediate and compassionate partaking of a response, enabling an understanding of the other persons feeling. At the same time, the resonating affect remains allocated to the other person, distinguishing this comprehensive process from a mere emotional contagion. At present, the phenomenon of mirror neurons is gaining clinical relevance in the field of autism spectrum disorders and apoplexia. One's own ability for empathy as well as promoting empathetic abilities of others is of central importance for the clinical praxis, in particular concerning the treatment of children and adolescents.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intention
  • Mirror Neurons / physiology*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Personal Construct Theory
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Theory of Mind