Aplasic phantoms and the mirror neuron system: An enactive, developmental perspective

  • Rachel Wood
  • Susan A. J. StuartEmail author


Phantom limb experiences demonstrate an unexpected degree of fragility inherent in our self-perceptions. This is perhaps most extreme when congenitally absent limbs are experienced as phantoms. Aplasic phantoms highlight fundamental questions about the physiological bases of self-experience and the ontogeny of a physical, embodied sense of the self. Some of the most intriguing of these questions concern the role of mirror neurons in supporting the development of self–other mappings and hence the emergence of phantom experiences of congenitally absent limbs. In this paper, we will examine the hypothesis that aplasic phantom limb experience is the result of an ontogenetic interplay between body schemas and mirror neuron activity and that this interplay is founded on embedding in a social context. Phantom limb experience has been associated with the persistence of subjective experience of a part of the body after deafferentation through surgical or traumatic removal. We maintain that limited association is inconsistent with the extent to which phantom limb experience is reported by aplasic individuals.


Aplasia Phantom limb experience Body schema Enactivism Mirror neuron system Embodiment 



The authors would like to thank Vittorio Gallese, Alessandra Umilta and Ezequiel Di Paolo for helpful discussions on the themes of this paper. RW’s work on this paper was supported by the EU Marie Curie - Research Training Network 035975 “DISCOS - Disorders and coherence of the embodied self”.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  2. 2.Dipartimento di Neuroscienze - Sezione di FisiologiaUniversita’ di ParmaParmaItaly
  3. 3.Centre for Computational Neuroscience and RoboticsUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

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