Emotion processing fails to modulate putative mirror neuron response to trained visuomotor associations

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Recent neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that activation of the putative human mirror neuron system (MNS) can be elicited via visuomotor training. This is generally interpreted as supporting an associative learning account of the mirror neuron system (MNS) that argues against the ontogeny of the MNS to be an evolutionary adaptation for social cognition. The current study assessed whether a central component of social cognition, emotion processing, would influence the MNS activity to trained visuomotor associations, which could support a broader role of the MNS in social cognition. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we assessed repetition suppression to the presentation of stimulus pairs involving a simple hand action and a geometric shape that was either congruent or incongruent with earlier association training. Each pair was preceded by an image of positive, negative, or neutral emotionality. In support of an associative learning account of the MNS, repetition suppression was greater for trained pairs compared with untrained pairs in several regions, primarily supplementary motor area (SMA) and right inferior frontal gyrus (rIFG). This response, however, was not modulated by the valence of the emotional images. These findings argue against a fundamental role of emotion processing in the mirror neuron response, and are inconsistent with theoretical accounts linking mirror neurons to social cognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-13
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


  • Emotion
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Mirror neuron system
  • Repetition Suppression
  • Training

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