The role of the superior temporal sulcus and the mirror neuron system in imitation

Pascal Molenberghs, Christopher Brander, Jason B. Mattingley, Ross Cunnington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

68 Citations (Scopus)


It has been suggested that in humans the mirror neuron system provides a neural substrate for imitation behaviour, but the relative contributions of different brain regions to the imitation of manual actions is still a matter of debate. To investigate the role of the mirror neuron system in imitation we used fMRI to examine patterns of neural activity under four different conditions: passive observation of a pantomimed action (e.g., hammering a nail); (2) imitation of an observed action; (3) execution of an action in response to a word cue; and (4) self-selected execution of an action. A network of cortical areas, including the left supramarginal gyrus, left superior parietal lobule, left dorsal premotor area and bilateral superior temporal sulcus (STS), was significantly active across all four conditions. Crucially, within this network the STS bilaterally was the only region in which activity was significantly greater for action imitation than for the passive observation and execution conditions. We suggest that the role of the STS in imitation is not merely to passively register observed biological motion, but rather to actively represent visuomotor correspondences between one's own actions and the actions of others.

Original languageEnglish
Article number31
Pages (from-to)1316-1326
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • fMRI
  • Imitation
  • Mirror neuron system

Cite this

Molenberghs, P., Brander, C., Mattingley, J. B., & Cunnington, R. (2010). The role of the superior temporal sulcus and the mirror neuron system in imitation. Human Brain Mapping, 31(9), 1316-1326. [31].