Were do Mirror Neurons Come From?

This video is about mirror neurons. These mirror neurons are the key to many aspects of social interaction. It allows us to understand the actions, feelings of others. In a way to “read their minds”. Possibly mirror neurons play an important role in empathy , an important asset for physicians.

But were do they come from these motor neurons?

One explanation could be that mirror neurons are an adaptation:

an adaptation for action understanding concerns the origins, rather than the current utility, of mirror neurons. It asserts that a certain process – genetic evolution – produced mirror neurons, and that they were favoured by natural selection because they supported action understanding.

The mirror neurons helped to understand what others were doing, which could be of importance during the survival in the evolution of human kind.

The other explanation could be that mirror neurons are a product of associative learning:

Associative learning is a form of learning that results from exposure to a relationship between two events. ‘Conditioning procedures’ arrange different types of relationship between events. Research examining the effects of conditioning procedures on animal behaviour has shown that associative learning depends on ‘contiguity’ – the closer the two events occur in time, the stronger the association – and ‘contingency’ – there needs to be a correlation or predictive relationship between them.

This suggests that mirror neurons were created during the experience of observing and executing the same action. Motor neurons become mirror neurons in the course of individual development.

In a recent publication arguments were put forward in favor of the associative learning origin of mirror neurons. The most important arguments being that mirror neurons do play a role in some social functions but do not play a dominant role in action understanding. You probably don’t need them to understand actions coming about. The other argument is that even in adulthood the mirror neuron system can be reconfigured by sensorimotor learning.

The associative account implies that mirror neurons come from sensorimotor experience, and that much of this experience is obtained through interaction with others. Therefore, if the associative account is correct, the mirror neuron system is a product, as well as a process, of social interaction.

Wouldn’t it be great that humans can develop mirror neurons during life? The experience of interactions being enough to create mirror neurons. I think this is a very optimistic makable point of view, what do you think?

Heyes, C. (2010). Where do mirror neurons come from? Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 34 (4), 575-583 DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2009.11.007