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Why the Mirror Neurons Cannot Support Action Understanding

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After the discovery of the “mirror” neurons in primates, some researchers tended to explain action understanding as a result of functioning of these units. The proponents of the traditional view on the nature of this cognitive and social phenomenon assume that the mirror neurons do not provide action understanding or provide it only partly. There exist empirical data that cannot be explained through the mirror neuron model of understanding others’ actions. Analyzing the mirror neuron data, I revise their function and propose an alternative role of this type of neurons. At first, goals and intentions of the executor’s action are coded outside the mirror neuron system. If the action is important for the observer and can be useful in his own motor repertoire, his/her mirror neuron system implicitly reproduces the action, retrieving the kinematics and sensory consequences the observer experienced in the past while executing the same action. Thus, the implicit reproduction facilitates the observer to execute this action either immediately or in the future. More likely, precisely this, but not action understanding, is the function of the mirror neurons.

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Correspondence to V. Kosonogov.

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Kosonogov, V. Why the Mirror Neurons Cannot Support Action Understanding. Neurophysiology 44, 499–502 (2012).

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