International Meeting for Autism Research (London, May 15-17, 2008): Contributions of mirror neurons to imitation and joint attention

Contributions of mirror neurons to imitation and joint attention

Friday, May 16, 2008: 2:25 PM
Avize-Morangis (Novotel London West)
J. H. G. Williams , Child Health, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland
The role of the 'mirror neuron system' (MNS) in social learning is likely to be complex, and attempts to place mirror neurons at the centre of a single primary deficit model are unlikely to be helpful. Rather, the contributions of the MNS to social learning, occur in concert with other brain functions and vary according to the social cognitive function and action features. Exploring the different ways that the MNS contributes to these functions, and how they are disrupted in autism, is more likely to be fruitful. For example, MNS functioning in imitation as a form of motor learning, may differ from the way it functions in ‘automatic’ imitation or emotional contagion. MNS involvement in joint attention and attention to social stimuli is likely to differ further. This may impact upon different roles for the MNS in belief understanding and empathy.
In this presentation, two networks will be discussed. The first network concerns the contribution of the MNS to the motor learning network during imitation. The second network concerns the contribution of MNS to joint attention and perceptual sensitivity to others' actions. Both networks are likely to rely on connectivity with the orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala, but perhaps with differential recruitment of parietal cortex and Broca's area. Brain areas serving 'theory of mind', cognitive integration and biological motion processing are likely to be differentially networked with the mirror neuron system in imitation learning and joint attention.