The human mirror neuron system-A common neural basis for social cognition?

Psychophysiology. 2021 May;58(5):e13781. doi: 10.1111/psyp.13781. Epub 2021 Feb 11.


According to the theory of embodied simulation, mirror neurons (MN) in our brain's motor system are the neuronal basis of all social-cognitive processes. The assumption of such a mirroring process in humans could be supported by results showing that within one person the same region is involved in different social cognition tasks. We conducted an fMRI-study with 75 healthy participants who completed three tasks: imitation, empathy, and theory of mind. We analyzed the data using group conjunction analyses and individual shared voxel counts. Across tasks, across and within participants, we find common activation in inferior frontal gyrus, inferior parietal cortex, fusiform gyrus, posterior superior temporal sulcus, and amygdala. Our results provide evidence for a shared neural basis for different social-cognitive processes, indicating that interpersonal understanding might occur by embodied simulation.

Keywords: IFG; STS; affective ToM; affective empathy; distress; fMRI; mentalizing; shared voxels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mirror Neurons / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways
  • Parietal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Social Cognition
  • Temporal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*
  • Young Adult