Mirror Neuron System and Mentalizing System connect during online social interaction

Cogn Process. 2014 Aug;15(3):307-16. doi: 10.1007/s10339-014-0600-x. Epub 2014 Jan 12.


Two sets of brain areas are repeatedly reported in neuroimaging studies on social cognition: the Mirror Neuron System and the Mentalizing System. The Mirror System is involved in goal understanding and has been associated with several emotional and cognitive functions central to social interaction, ranging from empathy to gestural communication and imitation. The Mentalizing System is recruited in tasks requiring cognitive processes such as self-reference and understanding of other's intentions. Although theoretical accounts for an interaction between the two systems have been proposed, little is known about their synergy during social exchanges. In order to explore this question, we have recorded brain activity by means of functional MRI during live social exchanges based on reciprocal imitation of hand gestures. Here, we investigate, using the method of psychophysiological interaction, the changes in functional connectivity of the Mirror System due to the conditions of interest (being imitated, imitating) compared with passive observation of hand gestures. We report a strong coupling between the Mirror System and the Mentalizing System during the imitative exchanges. Our findings suggest a complementary role of the two networks during social encounters. The Mirror System would engage in the preparation of own actions and the simulation of other's actions, while the Mentalizing System would engage in the anticipation of the other's intention and thus would participate to the co-regulation of reciprocal actions. Beyond a specific effect of imitation, the design used offers the opportunity to tackle the role of role-switching in an interpersonal account of social cognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Imitative Behavior / physiology*
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Linear Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mirror Neurons / physiology*
  • Online Systems*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychophysics
  • Theory of Mind*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen