Mirror Neurons, a Return to Pragmatism and Implications for an Embodied Intersubjectivity

  • David D. Franks
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Sociology book series (BRIEFSSOCY)


The early discovery of mirror neurons is traced from about 1991 when Rizzolatti and Sinigalia discovered them. The simulation of the behavior of others on the brain’s motor cortex is discussed as are other areas holding mirror neurons. How this can be related to language is briefly addressed, as is the original meaning of empathy. The subjective results of mirror neurons are considered at this point. V.S. Ramachandran’s early and overenthusiastic endorsement of mirror neurons is described as are a group of scholarly responses to mirror neurons from 2010 until 2016. Included are Cecilia Heyes (Neuro Image 51:789–791, 2010) showing that mirror neurons can be affected by experience, then Patricia Churchland (Braintrust: what neuroscience tells us about morality. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2011) who describes difficulties with mirror neurons. Next, Sharon Begley (Mindful, 2014) represents a more recent interpretation as does Christian Jarrett ( Posted 10 December 2012). Like many of these authors, he insists that the broken mirror theory of autism has no validity. The rest of the chapter integrates findings of mirror neurons with the social behaviorism of G.H. Mead. The chapter ends with a criticism of mirror neurons by Hickok.


Affordances Mirror neurons Motor cortex “Hegelian Waltz” Empathy Intentions Social behaviorism 


  1. Begley, S. (2014, April 11). The trouble with mirror neurons. Once the go-to explanation for empathy, the evidence that we have about them is sketchy at best. Mindful: Healthy Mind, Healthy Life. Available at
  2. Churchland, P. (2011). Braintrust: What neuroscience tells us about morality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Cooley, C. H. (1902). Human nature and the social order (pp. 179–186). New York: Scribner’s Press.Google Scholar
  4. Damasio, A. (1994). Descartes’ error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: Avon Books.Google Scholar
  5. de Lafuente, V., & Romo, R. (2004). Language abilities of motor cortex. Neuron, 41(2), 178–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Fried, I., Mukamel R., & Kreiman, G. (2011, February 10). Internally generated reactivation of single neurons in human medals frontal cortex predicts volition. Neuron, 69(3), 548–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gibson, J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  8. Goldman, A. (2006). Simulating minds: The philosophy, psychology and neuroscience of mind-reading. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Goodwin, C., & Lebaron, C. (2011). Embodied interaction in the material world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Hauk, O., et al. (2004, January 22). Somatotopic representation of action words in human motor and premotor cortex. Neuron, 41(2), 301–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Heyes, C. (2010). Mesmerise mirror neurons. Neuro Image, 51, 789–791.Google Scholar
  12. Hickok, G. (2014). The myth of mirror neurons: The real neuroscience of communication and cognition. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.Google Scholar
  13. Iacoboni, M. (2008). Mirroring people: The new science of how we connect with others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  14. James, W. (1983). The principles of psychology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Jarrett, C. (2014). Mirror neurons: The most hyped concept in neuroscience? Psychology Today. Posted Dec 10, 2012.
  16. Kilpinen, E. (2002). A neglected classic vindicated: The place of George Herbert Mead in the general tradition of semiotics. Semiotica, 142(1/4), 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to Western thought. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  18. LeDoux, J. (1996). The emotional brain: The mysterious underpinnings of the emotional life. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  19. Lyng, S., & Franks, D. (2002). Sociology and the real world. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  20. Max, L. (1937). Experimental study of the motor theory of consciousness, IV. Action-current responces in the deaf during awakening. Kinaesthetic imagery and abstract thinking. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 24(2), 301–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mead, G. H. (1910). In C. W. Morris (Ed.), Mind, self, and society: The definitive edition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Annotated Edition by D. R. Huebner & H. Joas.Google Scholar
  22. Mead, G. (1934). Mind, self and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist. Chicago: University of Chicago press.Google Scholar
  23. Mead, G. (1938). The philosophy of the act. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  24. Morris, C. W. (1943). Foundations of a theory of signs. Philosophy of Science, 10(4), 247–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pinker, S. (1994). The language instinct. New York: Harper Collins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ramachandran, V. S. TED India 2009 The neurons that shaped civilization.
  27. Rizzolatti, G., & Sinigalia, C. (2008). Mirrors in the brain: How our minds share actions and emotions. New York: Oxford University press.Google Scholar
  28. Shalin, D. (1992). Critical theory and the pragmatists challenge. The American Journal of Sociology., 98(2), 237–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Smith, J., & Lewis, D. (1979). A social behaviorist interpretation of the Meadian ‘I’. American Journal of Sociology, 85(2), 261–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Swanson, G. (1989). On motives and the motivation of selves. In D. Franks & D. McCarthy (Eds.), The sociology of emotions: Original essays and research papers (p. 332). Greenwich: JAI Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • David D. Franks
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA

Personalised recommendations