Social decision making in autism: On the impact of mirror neurons, motor control, and imitative behaviors

CNS Neurosci Ther. 2018 Aug;24(8):669-676. doi: 10.1111/cns.13001. Epub 2018 Jul 2.


The Mirror Neuron System (MNS) plays a crucial role in action perception and imitative behavior, which is suggested to be impaired in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). In this review, we discuss the plausibility and empirical evidence of a neural interaction between the MNS, action perception, empathy, imitative behavior, and their impact on social decision making in ASDs. To date, there is no consensus regarding a particular theory in ASDs and its underlying mechanisms. Some theories have completely focused on social difficulties, others have emphasized sensory aspects. Based on the current studies, we suggest a multilayer neural network model including the MNS on a first layer and transforming this information to a higher layer network responsible for reasoning. Future studies with ASD participants combining behavioral tasks with neuroimaging methods and transcranial brain stimulation as well as computational modeling can help validate and complement this suggested model. Moreover, we propose applying the behavioral paradigms, and the neurophysiological markers mentioned in this review article for evaluating psychiatric treatment approaches in ASDs. The investigation of modulating effects of different treatment approaches on the neurophysiological markers of the MNS can help find specific subgroups of ASDs patients and support tailored psychiatric interventions.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorders; basal ganglia; mirror neuron system; motor cortex; social decision making.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder* / pathology
  • Autistic Disorder* / physiopathology
  • Autistic Disorder* / psychology
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior*
  • Mirror Neurons / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*