Mirror neurons, handymen of neuroscience: critical analysis of the methodological and theoretical limits

Theoretical notes
By Jeremy Decroix, Yves Rossetti, François Quesque

Mirror neurons and the main resulting theories had and still have an important place in Neuroscience and Psychology. Despite the important limitations reported in the literature, these neurons still inspire researchers in all fields of cognition. The present paper aims at summarizing and discussing the main methodological and conceptual limits of mirror neuron theories. First, we demonstrate that there is almost no method to unambiguously study mirror neurons in humans. Second, we discuss the main theoretical challenges faced by the “mirror mechanism”. We show that the answers provided by the mirror neuron accounts are too simple to stand against the complexity of the phenomena they are trying to unravel. We conclude that mirror neurons would benefit from losing their “mirror” attribute.

  • mirror neurons
  • mentalization
  • action understanding
  • simulation
  • social cognition
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