Mirror Neurons are neurons in premotor brain regions that code our actions and respond to viewed similar actions of others. They were first discovered in monkeys by three Italian physiologists; when a monkey made specific hand movements and watched a conspecific make the same movements, neuronal activity in this area was the same.
Much discussion in neuroscientific circles has revolved around the idea that mirror neurons are key to understanding our everyday commerce with the world and with others. Here’s a couple of posts from Chris at Mixing Memory; the first is a roundup of sorts and the second profiles an impotant paper about how the mirror neuron system can code agency and avoid potential confusion about who’s doing what and who’s sensing what. Evil Monkey at Neurotopia is skeptical (but in a good way!) about what these discoveries have meant and will mean and about their purported role in autism spectrum disorders.
The Chronicle is reporting that the $200,000 Grawemeyer Prize in Psychology, awarded by the University of Louisville for outstanding ideas in psychological research (the award is given in several other fields as well), has been given to the physiologists who made the original discoveries. They are Giacomo Rizzolatti, Vittorio Gallese, and Leonardo Fogassi, all of the University of Parma.
More discussion of the award and the work behind it is at the Grawemeyer site. Congratulations to the winners, and onwards to futher clarification of the role of these neurons in our psychological life!