At the risk of turning Talking Brains into a blog exclusively dedicated to mirror neurons, here is yet another post on the topic. But the fact is, mirror neurons and embodied cognition have become such a dominant force in cognitive neuroscience and psychology, with obvious implications for work on language and brain, that the topic needs to be addressed thoroughly and frequently.
So our latest survey on mirror neurons is in. Forty-five percent of respondents (the majority!) said THE "MIRROR SYSTEM" THE BASIS FOR (I.E., PLAYS THE DOMINANT ROLE IN) ACTION UNDERSTANDING. Another 23% were unsure. Only 30% of respondents actually got the answer right.
This is a bizarre result (although it reflects the dominant view in cognitive neuroscience) because all the available evidence points to the conclusion that the mirror system is NOT the basis for action understanding. Have a look at the speech or apraxia literature and one finds double-dissociations between the ability to recognize actions and produce actions. Either people have not read the relevant literature, or have decided to believe in "mirror system theory" on faith alone.
In case of the former situation, I suggest the following paper as a must-read:
A critical look at the embodied cognition hypothesis and a new proposal for grounding conceptual content
Bradford Z. Mahon, a, b, and Alfonso Caramazzaa, b
Journal of Physiology-Paris
Volume 102, Issues 1-3, January-May 2008, Pages 59-70
Many studies have demonstrated that the sensory and motor systems are activated during conceptual processing. Such results have been interpreted as indicating that concepts, and important aspects of cognition more broadly, are embodied. That conclusion does not follow from the empirical evidence. The reason why is that the empirical evidence can equally be accommodated by a ‘disembodied’ view of conceptual representation that makes explicit assumptions about spreading activation between the conceptual and sensory and motor systems. At the same time, the strong form of the embodied cognition hypothesis is at variance with currently available neuropsychological evidence. We suggest a middle ground between the embodied and disembodied cognition hypotheses – grounding by interaction. This hypothesis combines the view that concepts are, at some level, ‘abstract’ and ‘symbolic’, with the idea that sensory and motor information may ‘instantiate’ online conceptual processing.