Resonance behaviors and mirror neurons.

Abstract

This article is subdivided into two parts. In the first part we review the properties of a particular class of premotor neurons, the "mirror" neurons. With this term we define neurons that discharge both when the monkey makes a particular action and when it observes another individual (monkey or human) making a similar action. The second part is an attempt to give a neurophysiological account of the mechanisms underlying behaviors where an individual reproduces, overtly or internally, movements or actions made by another individual. We will refer to these behaviors as "resonance behaviors". We distinguish two types of resonance behavior. The first type is characterized by imitation, immediate or with delay, of movements made by other individuals. Examples of resonance behavior of this type are the "imitative" behaviors observed in birds, young infants and patients with frontal lesions. The second type of resonance behavior is characterized by the occurrence, at the observation of an action, of a neural pattern, which, when internally generated, determines the making of the observed action. In this type of resonance behavior the observed action is, typically, not repeated (overtly). We argue that resonance behavior of the second type is at the basis of the understanding of actions made by others. At the end of the article we review evidence of mirror mechanisms in humans and discuss their anatomical localizations.

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